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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 7, 2002

Two O'ahu schools cited as ideals

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer

Two Hawai'i schools are among six nationwide cited as examples of "democratic education" in a new book, "Pockets of Hope: How Students and Teachers Change the World."

Educators and "Pockets of Hope" co-authors Patricia A. Gozemba and Eileen de los Reyes had seen too many classrooms and teaching methods they said undermine democracy and create passive students.

"We saw that in many schools teachers exerted power over students," Gozemba said. "Teachers did all the work. Students were spectators in their education. They weren't really engaged."

But in Castle High School's Aloha 'Aina program and Roosevelt High School's Peer Education Project, they saw students who were engaged. The programs feature students and teachers sharing power and responsibility, plus a strong commitment to the academic program, Gozemba said.

The authors call this democratic education, and they have written a book using six examples around the country, including their own language program at Salem (Mass.) State College.

At Castle, special-education students learn about caring for the land, building alliances to meet their goals and transferring that knowledge to broader practical use.

At Roosevelt, students help each other solve problems, educate each other on such issues as drugs and sexuality, and work with disabled students in the Special Olympics.

The teachers who lead these classes wouldn't have called them democratic programs, but they did agree that the programs fit that philosophy.

Roosevelt peer education teacher Amy Akamine said she sees her role as a facilitator in the 10-year-old program, with the students responsible for problem solving. "Pockets of Hope" puts the program into perspective, Akamine said.

"I feel she really hit the essence of what we try to teach so the students can develop into responsible, independent adults," she said.

Pi'ikea Miyamoto, a special-education teacher at Castle, said she developed the Aloha 'Aina program as a way to reach students who didnot respond to traditional teaching methods. The flexible program has evolved over 25 years around core requirements.

Students decide how they'll meet their goals; later in the year they use their knowledge to help restore Kaho'olawe, an island off Maui that for years was used as a military bombing range. Today the bombing has stopped and the land is being reclaimed.

"I try to give them choices about what we're going to be doing, what we're trying to accomplish," Miyamoto said. She noted that Gozemba recognized how the students were able to transfer what they learned to what they were asked to do on Kaho'olawe.

Gozemba, who teaches English and women's studies at Salem State, learned about the Hawai'i programs when she was on a fellowship at the East-West Center in 1995. She followed the programs for about four years, attending classes, talking to students and visiting Kaho'olawe before writing about them.

Reyes is an assistant professor of learning and teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Through understanding these "Pockets of Hope," Gozemba said she hopes people will "rethink what is possible in education and in a democratic society."

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com or 234-5266.