By David Lichtenstein
While parents and educators across Hawaii bemoaned the first furlough Friday and the shortening of the school year, it was a very different scene at Kualapu’u Elementary School.
Amidst a shrinking economy and job market, this conversion charter school has actually added students and staff. Not only was school in session on furlough Friday but parents, students and educators gathered to celebrate and bless the opening of the school’s new pre-kindergarten.
It was standing room only in the self-contained pre-kindergarten that sits on the campus of Kualapu’u, the largest of the four public elementary schools on Molokai. Besides the mainstream school, Kualapuu School also houses a Hawaiian Language Immersion Program for students in kindergarten through sixth grade. The pre-kindergarten opened at the beginning of this school year with 18 students.
With this new addition to the campus, the conversion charter school becomes the first public school in Hawaii to directly operate and manage a pre-kindergarten.
Kualapu’u Principal Lydia Trinidad welcomed the crowd and recognized everyone who contributed to making the pre-kindergarten possible. “There was a lot of heavy lifting that went into making this a reality,” said Trinidad. The planning began four to five years ago and support from Kamehameha Schools and the Ho’okako’o Corporation made this possible.
Trinidad said that when she started working at Kualapuu 12 or 13 years ago — before it was a charter school — one of her main goals was to bring in a preschool. “There was such a need for it,” said Trinidad, “and this was an opportunity to bring a pre-kindergarten to Molokai.”
The school is free and open to all families within the attendance area. With one building and an enclosed, fenced-in area, the school has two teachers and 18 students. These students will feed Kualapu’u’s kindergarten.
Lynn Fallin, executive director of Ho’okako’o, which serves as the local school board for Kualapuu as well as a supporting non-profit, spoke to the families at the celebration about the importance of early childhood education.
“We know from research that early childhood pays off $1 to $4 from a return on investment standpoint, and children who go to quality Pre-K programs do well,” said Fallin.
“It’s long overdue,” said Fallin about the preschool. “It took a lot of work, leadership and funding support and now it’s here and we can all celebrate. If the research is right, these children will do better in school and in life.” Fallin said those who go to preschool experience lower dropout rates and more go on to higher education.
A parent of one of the preschoolers, Kalehua Sproat-Augustiro, spoke about the importance for the community of having a preschool and the convenience it offers. She also praised the school’s two teachers, Erika Helm and Robin Van Epps. She said her child can now write her own name because of the preschool.
Others who contributed to creating the preschool were Gale Flynn, an early childhood consultant, and Rose Mayer, curriculum coordinator and grant writer. The Sam and Mary Castle Foundation also provided support. Trinidad also thanked contractor Dan Blackburn of F&H Construction for installing the fence.
Opu’ulani Albino, a teacher in the Hawaiian Immersion program, gave the pule, or blessing, for the new school. With an offering of ulu fruit (representing growth), kalo (representing Hawaiian ancestors) and Lanikeha sweet potato, the pule was given and the crowd enjoyed a festive lunch.
The preschool students also entertained the crowd with a performance of songs learned in school, including the Itsy Bitsy Spider.
Kualapu'u Elementary School Principal Lydia Trinidad greets the families of the students at the new pre-kindergarten that opened this year on the campus.
Filed under: Schools | Leave a comment »