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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, October 18, 2001

Our Schools | Kapunahala Elementary School
'Ohana driving force behind student achievement

 •  Kapunahala Elementary at a glance

By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Education Writer

"The knee bone's connected to the thigh bone; the thigh bone's connected to the hip bone ..."

Kapunahala Elementary students Rochelle Dexter, left, assists Reanne Nakapaahu during an injury prevention demonstration presented by the University of Hawai'i-Manoa athletic department.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

Kapunahala Elementary School first-grade students sang and pranced with Lani Moo, the Meadow Gold cow last week.

Up in the library, kindergarteners tumbled and flipped over padded barrels with the Hawaiian Island Twisters.

And across the walkway, fifth- graders hit the mat and did press-ups with the Castle High School wrestling team.

It was all part of the school's annual Wellness Day.

Students in every grade spent the afternoon learning about everything from dental care to kidney awareness to electrical safety.

The school launched its wellness emphasis years ago after a test of the students' physical fitness found they were about "as low as they could go," according to acting principal Ruby Hiraishi. "Although we're interested in the academic goals, we also need to look at the whole child, so the fitness part was critical to address."

As is typical of Kapunahala's bustling community spirit, the Wellness Day is organized entirely by the schools' parents. Enhancing the spirit of 'ohana, Kapunahala also is a place that people seem to keep coming back to.

Some of the parents were students at Kapunahala themselves. Hiraishi has returned from retirement to head the school after serving as principal nearly 10 years ago. A former teacher is acting vice principal. And another former principal still teaches math.

• What are you most proud of? "I told the staff just yesterday it's really such a heartwarming experience to see all of the people, the professionals, parents, community and staff, they're all working as a team. It kind of makes you get chicken skin," said Hiraishi. "With positive relationships, you can solve anything, and this school demonstrates that, because we do have our challenges. The entire population of the low-income housing comes here."

Yet test scores are rising, and Kapunahala has been recognized in the past as a national Blue Ribbon School for excellence.

• Best-kept secret: "People are not aware of the extent to which parents are involved in this school," Hiraishi said. The school is leading the way in increasing parent involvement through its Parent-Community Networking Center. Parents can be found on campus every day, helping out in the office and in classrooms. They logged more than 9,000 volunteer hours last year.

• Everybody at our school knows: Irene Yamashita, who teaches the media technology program.

Yamashita works with every grade and helps produce "Inside Kapunahala," a weekly video by the students about their school.

It is broadcast throughout the school every Monday. Under Yamashita's tutelage, Kapunahala students also have successfully competed against middle school students and represented Hawai'i for seven years straight at the History Day event in Washington, D.C.

• Our biggest challenge: "Our biggest challenge really is physical space for students and adults to have a positive learning environment," Hiraishi said.

The school's need for classroom and office space is so great that it has converted closets, the teachers lounge, a portion of the library, office space and an outside patio. The space squeeze is a result of growing enrollment and an expanding number of support staff such as therapists.

"It's wonderful to have all of these additional staff, but where do you put them?" Hiraishi asked.

• What we need: More classroom space. The state Department of Accounting and General Services is scheduled to enclose the outside patio this year — that project has been requested for nearly a decade.

The school was recently given a trailer, which will be used for group counseling, but Hiraishi said more portables are needed.

• Special events: Kapunahala holds its Love of Reading program in March. Organized by parents, the program allows special guests to read to children in their classrooms.

The Project Fair also takes over the cafeteria for one week in March as students display their work in areas ranging from social science, nutrition, economics and the natural sciences.

• • •

Kapunahala Elementary at a glance

Where: 45-828 Anoi Road, Kane'ohe

Phone: 233-5650

Web address: www.k12.hi.us/~kapunaha/

Principal: Ruby Hiraishi has returned from retirement to serve as the school's acting principal after the recent departure of Linda Kamiyama. Hiraishi was principal of Kapunahala in the late '80s and early '90s before moving on to become the Windward District superintendent. Some of the school's initiatives were begun during her tenure, but Hiraishi said Kamiyama deserves the recognition for the school's progress

School mascot: Dolphin

School colors: Silver and blue

Enrollment: 630

SATs: Here's how Kapunahala 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: 86 percent; math: 87 percent. Fifth grade, reading: 80 percent; math: 89 percent.

History: The school opened 39 years ago, in September 1962.

Special programs or classes: Kapunahala acts as host for the Families for REAL program. This preschool program helps support parents as they prepare their children for kindergarten. Parents attend classes with their child and learn activities they can do together as well as parenting skills.

Computers: Kapunahala has one or two computers in every classroom and a lab with 30 computers.