Students put McKenna in spotlight for documentary on gang problem

The documentary will be entered in the National Film Festival For Talented Youth competition.

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Pioneer Middle School students Hayden Hartwell, left, and Caleb Thompson prepare to record an intereview of state Attorney General Rob McKenna by classmate John Martin. McKenna was here Thursday after Martin asked him to come to Walla Walla for a documentary the students are doing on the gang problem. (Dec. 9, 2010)

WALLA WALLA -- State Attorney General Rob McKenna had a short answer when asked why he was in town Thursday.

"Because John Martin invited me," he said.

Martin, a Pioneer Middle School student, had written McKenna in September to ask Washington's top law officer to sit down for an interview on the gang problem. He and fellow students Caleb Thompson and Hayden Hartwell are making a documentary on the topic and needed expert opinions.

McKenna was happy to oblige. So Thursday morning he was in Pioneer's library putting on a microphone to prepare for Martin's questions while Thompson and Hartwell recorded the event.

The session lasted slightly under a half hour and ranged from McKenna's personal experience with gangs to proposed legislation to give communities more tools to fight the problem. The interview will be incorporated into the students' documentary, which they plan to submit to the National Film Festival For Talented Youth competition.

Martin said his meeting with McKenna grew out of a project he, Thompson and Hartwell are doing for their advanced humanities class. Martin said their teacher, Dan Calzaretta, had originally "proposed we do a documentary on video game addiction, but I looked further and I found the gang problem was greater."

Along with McKenna, the student team plans to incorporate other interviews with a Walla Walla Police officer who has worked on gang enforcement, a local news reporter who has done stories on the issue and sheriff-elect John Turner, who worked on gang enforcement as a Los Angeles Police officer.

After completing the documentary, the trio plans to show it to their classmates and use the feedback to see what might be improved. Then they will submit it to NFFTY (pronounced "nifty") for judging. They also plan to show it at the Walla Walla High School film festival.

McKenna said this was the first time he's been interviewed by an eighth-grader and complimented Martin on how well the youth handled the questioning.

"What's really encouraging about John and his classmates taking on this issue is it shows their consciousness has been raised about this problem," McKenna said. "They're hearing about this at home and they're hearing about it at school."

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