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

Old-style education totally modern

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

At this all-girls Catholic campus, the original 1909 Spanish-style building, pleated skirts and arching stained-glass windows in the chapel leave no doubt it is a place that prides itself on being the most traditional of all the state's parochial schools.

Sacred Hearts students, from left, senior Maria Siu, 17, junior Ling (Lisa) lu, 16, and junior Kathleen Zeri, 16, use a calculator and motion sensor to measure the bounce of a rubber ball.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

But it is also a campus where students communicate regularly with the International Space Station; an oceanographic cruise takes students off the Maui coast to dissect fish; and every class — from art to social studies — integrates computer technology.

At Sacred Hearts Academy, a strong emphasis on math and science is the backbone of students' education.

It is evident in the clubs and activities: Sacred Hearts is the only high school in the country qualified to operate a telebridge connection for NASA's Amateur Radio International Space Station Program, while the students always place within the top six at the battery-car race sponsored by Hawaiian Electric. Most of the girls choose to take advanced science and math classes in high school.

"We look so old-fashioned," said student newspaper adviser Gaylen Isaacs. "There's this old building and these traditional uniforms. But everything is so modern. Everything is so up-to-date. The students are so prepared for college. They're not just going to be the nurse because they can't be the doctor."

The course work tends to be basic — and solid. With electives that range from dance to band and woodworking to ceramics, principal Betty White said the school offers a well-rounded, rigorous curriculum.

Years ago the school decided to integrate technology into all classes instead of simply offering computer courses as an elective.

"When I'm teaching math, I'm also teaching how to use Excel spreadsheets," said math teacher Deborah Kula. "The English classes will teach what they always teach, but they also learn Pagemaker."

Teachers say the girls are confident, outspoken and prepared for college when they graduate. "They're not afraid to open their mouths in class, because there aren't boys there," Isaacs said.

The school is famous for its Science Symposium for Girls, offered Feb. 23 this year. Some 450 students from public and private schools will attend workshops that promote math, science and technology, in hopes the girls will want to continue studying those subjects in college. "We want to see more women in those careers," White said.

Sacred Hearts maintains a strict, conservative school environment. "Our teachers are very in tune with the students, but they demand polite behavior and clean language," White said. "If you don't do your homework, you have to stay after school."

The 30 percent of students who receive some type of financial aid are required to work on campus.

Nor does the school ever lose sight of its spiritual mission. Girls start the school day with the Pledge of Allegiance, Star Spangled Banner and morning prayer. They attend Mass together once a month, go on retreats and are required to take religion classes.

"I think the overall flavor is that we have a school that was started, built and developed by our sisters, who were religious nuns. Now it's been passed to us, and it's up to us to keep their spirituality alive," White said. "If we lose that spiritual dimension, that mission has not been accomplished. We feel honored that we have inherited this legacy."

The school has a nationally recognized service learning program. Girls do everything from helping to monitor polluted streams to working in shelters for abused women and children as a part of graduation requirements. Girls in grades seven to 12 give more than 40,000 hours of community service each year.

Science teacher Joan Rohrback considers it one of the strengths of the curriculum. "It's not slapped on top," Rohrback said. "It's integrated, and every girl is required to do it. There's a sense of community that is developed."

• What are you most proud of? "I am proud that we have a school in which everybody is somebody," White said. "We've got all levels of students here. They don't slip through the cracks. We have the Punahou-level girls and the pluggers who try and try and try."

• Best-kept secret: This traditional all-girls Catholic school is steeped in technology, math and science learning.

• Everyone in school knows: Principal Betty White, whose door is always open to students.

• What we need: With the band housed in a portable building and the choir practicing in the chapel, Sacred Hearts would like to have a performing arts building. White also said it is her dream to be able to pay teachers what they're worth.

• Special events: Superfair, which is 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday. The parent-organized festival has food, kids' games, a country store and dance. The eighth annual Science Symposium for Girls is Feb. 23. An economic summit in the summer teaches girls financial independence through the principles of the free-market system.

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At a glance
 •  Where: 3253 Wai'alae Ave.
 •  Phone: 734-5058
 •  Web address: www.sacredhearts.org
 •  Principal: Betty White, who has been at Sacred Hearts for 31 years
 •  School nickname: Lancers
 •  School colors: White and gold
 •  Enrollment: 1,075 girls from junior kindergarten through 12th grade
 •  History: The school was founded in 1909 by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, who had been asked by the bishop to move from their home on Fort Street Mall to the vacant land in Kaimuki. Saint Louis School was already in operation down the road, but the island did not have a girls' parochial school. Sacred Hearts Academy started with 75 students, including 19 boarding from the Neighbor Islands. The Sisters of the Sacred Heart lived and taught on campus until the 1980s. They moved away to make space for more students as their numbers dwindled.
 •  Computers: More than 350 terminals and laptops in four technology labs. All the classrooms are networked, with an average of four computers per classroom.