News from the Big Island
Sunday, September 9, 2001
Students in Brooks Wakefield's class (above) read "Voyage of the Frog" for a class assignment. Students can read either at their desks or on a couch in the classroom. Kellan Waitley (Inset photo, at bottom left) and Scott Farmer work on illustrating the story "Island of the Blue Dolphins" during Jennifer Hiro's fourth- and fifth-grade combined class at Innovations Charter School.-BARON SEKIYA-
By STARR WEDEMEYER/ West Hawaii Today
In 30 days Kanani Leanio has seen a difference academically and socially in her two sons, a difference she credits to a new Kailua - Kona public charter school. She enrolled her sons, Nicholas in fourth grade and Bruce in third grade at Innovation Public Charter School in August. Nicholas was very shy, Leanio said, and had difficulties in reading and writing in public school at Kahakai Elementary School.
"In one month's time that boy has grown," Leanio said. "He loves reading and asked his teachers if he could read in front of the class." A feat Nicholas never did in public school.
Leanio also said Nicholas is going to the next step in math and reading already.
"He's gained confidence in school and everywhere else," Leanio said, noting he is very verbal now, is starting to swim and is not shy in church. "It's because of the school. I know it is. He couldn't have succeeded without the charter school environment."
The small - class size environment and individual attention from teachers, Leanio said, are the reasons Nicholas has improved dramatically.
Bruce never did his homework before in public school, Leanio said, and now he enjoys doing his homework.
"He said, 'I have a responsibility,'" Leanio said. "He just realized learning is fun."
The project - based Innovations Public Charter School, opened on Aug. 1 on the Kahakai Elementary School grounds, operating out of three portables and three Kahakai classrooms. Six teachers instruct 90 third - to fifth - graders. Students switch classrooms every day, being taught subjects by each teacher, instead of staying in one classroom and being taught all the subjects by one teacher.
Students' periods include math, language arts, projects, and resources, like physical education, music, art and computers. Once a week, they meet in their interest groups chosen by the students, like drama, ocean sports, computer, etc.
Teachers work with their strengths instead of teaching every subject, Barbara Woerner, Innovations teacher director and computer teacher, said. Teachers are excited teaching their expertise and are "fresh, invigorated teachers" for students.
Students receive standard - based grades instead of letter - based grades, Woerner said.
"It meets state and national standards," Woerner said, noting that the report card does have a section for letter - grades. "Students perform better academically and learning needs can be addressed."
Woerner said they feel "ahead of the game," noting she is seeing a transition from letter - based to standards - based in many schools.
"We are looking at innovating ways to educate students," Woerner said, noting the non - graded, project - based environment is successful. "We are a reproducible model that could be implemented in any public school."
The six teachers have full control of the curriculum and meet once a week in planning sessions to make necessary changes to meet their students' needs, Woerner said. Every year the teachers will report to the state on the positive and negative aspects they experience in the charter school, she added.
Woerner said as a teacher she loves the small school environment of knowing all the kids names and feeling a part of their lives and family.
"There is a feeling of ohana in small schools," teacher Brooks Wakefield said. "The kids watch out for each other."
All the students agreed that they like switching classes and having different teachers instead of staying in one classroom with one teacher all day.
"Learning and having fun at the same time," fifth - grader Stetson Pi - Denise said of why he likes the charter school environment, noting he feels more comfortable.
Stephanie Vancil, fourth - grader, said she enjoys the experiments they get to do and learns more at the charter school.
"We are forced to do our best and try our hardest and the teachers help us," fourth - grader Ellie Villarin said, noting the small class size helps her to try her best.
Many students agreed the small class size offers less distraction. They also said the teachers will teach something over again until everyone understands.
Fifth - graders Sam Unger, Alexis Csenger, Bryce Fischer and Carrie Hee said they like the "hands - on" approach to learning.
"It is more open for ideas and has a lot of options," Unger said of the learning environment.
The Innovations students do not eat in the cafeteria with Kahakai Elementary students. They bring their lunch from the cafeteria and sit on picnic tables and on the grass around the classroom portables. Teachers like it because the charter school students are calm as they eat their lunch and the cafeteria is so noisy. The students like it also because it is less noisy and they are allowed to sit wherever they want within the charter school boundaries.
With no bureaucratic administration, Woerner said, they are not bound by the procurement system where simply buying a pen would take a month with paperwork approved by 19 different departments.
"We decide how to spend the lump sum budget," Woerner said. "We are accountable to the local school board."
State funding is based on average daily attendance, like mainstream public schools, however, Woerner said, charter schools are allocated less money per pupil than public schools. Three - year federal sub grants totaling $310,000 helped start - up the charter school with equipment.
There are 25 public charter schools statewide, with 11 on the Big Island. Other Big Island charter schools are: Connection, Mountain View; Hawaii Academy of Arts & Sciences, Pahoa; Kanu o Ka Aina, Waimea; Ka Umeke Kaeo, Keaukaha; Ke Ana Laahana, Hilo; Ke Kula O Nawahiokalani Laboratory; Kua O Ka La Public Charter School; The Volcano School of Arts & Sciences, Volcano; Waters of Life Charter School, Puna; and West Hawaii Explorations Academy, Kailua - Kona.
Woerner said she would like charter schools, like Innovations, to prove to the state that smaller schools are socially and academically better for students in hopes of the state creating smaller public schools for Hawaii students.
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Page last updated September 9, 2001, 2001