AI FBI Students

Students from Leechburg Area High School wear FBI bullet-proof vests as a part of filming for the FBI Hope Initiative.

"Kyle did not grow up to be an addict,” says Jeannie Sundo, her words loaded with grief during a segment on a student-produced public service announcement video.

Sundo is talking about her son, Kyle — her only child and a Freeport High School student who lost his life to a heroin overdose. Her emotions sear your heart. They cut through class, demographics, race and religion. And that’s exactly what the video’s production team, a group of five students from Freeport High School, wanted.

FBI HOPE Initiative

For the 2016-2017 school year, the FBI Pittsburgh Citizens Academy Alumni Association hosted a video contest to create a two- to three-minute PSA for the FBI Heroin Outreach Prevention and Education (HOPE) Initiative. The goal for the contest was to deliver the message of the dangerous threat that heroin and prescription opioid misuse poses to the teenage population.

There were six prizes. First, second and third for $500, $300 and $200 in two categories: judges’ choice and viewers’ choice. The rounded panel of judges included FBI agents, law enforcement, counselors and film professionals.

Freeport Area School District

TV production teacher, Tawnya Lunz, made sure the project was entirely student-driven and led Freeport High School’s five-student production team that consisted of Emery Meyer, Ryan Kane, Gregg Miller, Brandon Bowser and Mason Hacker.

“The team took the angle of how the ravages of opioid addiction impacts our community, specifically,” says Mike Kleckner, principal at Freeport High School. “Instead of listing a bunch of statistics and state averages they connected everything and everyone in the video to Freeport. We’re a small community. If this issue is happening here, it can happen anywhere.”

The short video wove together the perspectives of six Freeport community members — a pediatrician, Magistrate Judge, School Resource Officer who is also a local policeman, School Guidance Counselor who lost her brother to an overdose, the Sundo family who lost their son and a representative of the Lost Dreams Awakening Recovery Center.

The project took several months. Students conducted interviews on location at homes and places of work. Kleckner says the students struggled with the topic more than the production process. “They didn’t realize it was such a tremendous epidemic,” Kleckner says.

For their efforts, the students won first place in both categories. Additionally, Kelly Wesoloski, community outreach specialist for the FBI Pittsburgh Field Office, came to the school with Sally Wiggin, a WTAE local broadcast reporter, and highlighted the team’s win and efforts. The $1000 prize money is being circulated back into the TV production class for future projects.

Kleckner is both thrilled and saddened. “I’m excited they did such a wonderful job, but it’s such a horrible topic,” he says.

Leechburg Area School District

Kristopher Kulick, technology teacher for Leechburg Area School District, usually spends his Video II class time focused on getting out the morning announcements. But when the opportunity to enter the FBI HOPE Initiative PSA came about, a handful of his top students dedicated themselves to the extra project.

“They spent many hours outside of class and school to research and film it,” Kulick says.

Many addiction stories begin as an injury where opioid prescription painkillers serve as the entry point into addiction. The Leechburg team wanted to highlight an individual who was exceptionally talented: a top student, homecoming queen, head cheerleader and Olympic hopeful in gymnastics.

“She was overwhelmed and was offered some prescription medication that another kid happened to have,” Kulick says. “Eventually it wasn’t strong enough. She was offered heroin once. She tried it and died. She was probably the least suspect to become an addict. It can happen to anyone and everyone.”

The video was extremely moving. So much so that people began calling the school to ask what had happened.

“I am really proud of how our kids took charge of this project,” Kulick says. “They worked endless hours and really cared. It wasn’t a forced assignment. They wanted to make an impact and they did.”