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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 30, 2001

Our Schools • Fern Elementary
Students find Middle Street school worth sticking around for

 •  Fern Elementary at a glance

By Adrienne Ancheta
Advertiser Staff Writer

When the last school bell rings at Mayor Joseph J. Fern Elementary, students do not immediately bolt for home. After a full day of studying, nearly 40 percent of students line up for two more hours of classes in Fern's after-school program.

Fern teacher Deeann Ling helps third-graders (from left) Julia Leituala, Fotu Kalihaapai and Jacqueline Abad with math. "If you don't have good teachers, you cannot expect a good product," principal Ronald Abe said.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Students choose from four-day-a-week classes on subjects such as Japanese language, technology, reading, career skills and writing. A Saturday course is also available to allow students with a lot of absences to catch up on work. The classes, paid for by a Title I grant of $70,000, are free to the students.

Title I money is available to Hawai'i schools with more than 50 percent of their students qualifying for the free and reduced-price lunch program.

"You would think they would all run home, but they line up for class," said principal Ronald Abe.

• What are you most proud of? One noteworthy aspect of Fern's after-school program is that it is taught by the school's full-time teachers.

"I think when you come to a school like ours you come for the commitment," Abe said. A dozen teachers teach two hours a day, twice a week after school, from 2:30 until 4:30. Besides the basic academic classes, Fern offers computer literacy classes for the entire community on Tuesdays, paid for by a Community Learning Centers Grant.

• Best-kept secret: The warmth of people at the school. "I never met people who are so warm, friendly, compassionate and loving," Abe said. After more than 20 years at schools in East O'ahu and in town, Abe was struck immediately by the warmth of the people at Fern. Despite 70 percent of students being eligible for reduced price lunches, 40 percent at or below the poverty level and 22 percent at-risk, the school still has a 95 percent average attendance rate due to the commitment of students, parents and teachers. "Teachers accept the child as is," Abe said. "We instill in our faculty that it doesn't matter what the child's background is, the standards are still there."

• Everybody at our school knows: Julia Clyde, the school's administrative secretarial assistant. "She knows everything and everyone goes to her," Abe said. "People like me, we come and go, but the S.A.S.A. stays."

• Our biggest challenge: "To get all our students to read at grade level," Abe said. About 95 percent of kindergarten students are behind on reading assessment tests because most have not gone to preschool. Fern operates one preschool class for students as young as 3 and hopes to open another soon. "When they reach kindergarten at least they have a decent start," Abe said.

• What we need: Parent involvement. A peripheral problem in getting students up to reading standards is getting parents more concerned about their children's progress. "We need to get the total school community to buy into and support the education of our kids," Abe said. That includes parent involvement in meetings and school activities and talking about school with the children.

• Projects: Fern is working on repairing school facilities and doing more for staff and professional development. Teachers are given assessments and have the opportunity to improve their teaching abilities. "If you don't have good teachers, you cannot expect a good product," Abe said.

• Special events: Events at Fern are pretty standard, including an open house and PTSA bingo night, Abe said. While in the past the school has partnered with the military for activities such as a school olympics, nothing has been planned so far this year.

• • •

Fern Elementary at a glance

• Where: 1121 Middle St., Honolulu

• Phone: 832-3040

• Principal: Ronald Abe, six years

• School nickname: Golden Eagles

• School colors: Green and white

• Enrollment: 510

• SATs: Here's how Fern Elementary students fared on the most recent Stanford Achievement Test. Listed is the combined percentage of students scoring average and above average, compared with the national combined average of 77 percent. Third grade, reading: 63 percent; math: 58 percent. Fifth grade, reading: 58 percent; math: 56 percent.

• History: Mayor Joseph J. Fern Elementary was dedicated in 1924, but the school began decades earlier as a grass hut school for adults and children.

• Special features: Technology forms an important base for education at Fern. While students may not enjoy opening a textbook, they can sit all day in front of a computer, Abe said. To facilitate technology learning, Abe helps pay for his teachers to go to the Department of Education's Technology and Telecommunications for Teachers class. About a third of Fern's teachers have taken or are in the yearlong class.

• Computers: Fern has three computer labs, including a multimedia lab. Each of the 32 classrooms has three to five computers.

To have your school profiled, contact education editor Dan Woods at dwoods@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5441.