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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 31, 2002

Parents paint cheery portrait of active student body

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Writer

'AINA HAINA — Students get a little of everything at this small school on old dairy land at the western fringe of East Honolulu.

At 'Aina Haina Elementary School, what they can't get from the state education system, the parents provide, said Principal Leatrice Chee. From performing arts, to DARE graduations, to artists in residence, the school works at being all things to all students, Chee said.

The school's Parent Teacher Student Association pays for the part-time salaries of two fine arts teachers for dance, band and orchestra instructions.

The arts aren't the school's only specialty. It is entirely wired for computers.

A well-used computer lab in the school's library serves as a hub of activity for students. Inside the library, colorful weavings hang from the ceilings and brightly colored chairs and couches are scattered around to make it inviting. Off to one corner is the audio-visual lab where students put on The Jaguar Informer, a weekly newscast sent to all classrooms via closed-circuit television, Chee said.

"We have a well-rounded program here," Chee said. "We have programs to meet everyone's needs. We think of our programs as meeting their needs as a whole child."

The school cost $425,000 when it was built in the 1950s. Now it is scheduled to be refurbished, and more than $1 million will be spent there starting in April, Chee said.

 •  Where: 801 West Hind Drive.
 •  Phone: 377-2519.
 •  Web address: www.k12.hi.us/~ainahain/
 •  Principal: Leatrice Chee, two years at school.
 •  School nickname: Jaguars.
 •  School colors: Purple and yellow.
 •  Enrollment: 339 students, but school can accommodate more than 500.
 •  SATs: Here's how 'Aina Haina Elementary students fared on the most recent Stanford Achievement Test. Listed are the combined percentages of students scoring average and above average, compared with the national combined average of 77 percent. Third-grade reading, 100 percent; math, 98 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 88 percent; math, 90 percent.
 •  History: 'Aina Haina Elementary opened in September 1951 on 11 acres of land that once was home to the Hind Clarke Dairy. There were 525 students then, but enrollment peaked with as many as 1,000 as the area was developed and more more younger families moved in.
 •  Special programs or classes: Separate class for children identified as gifted and talented, English as a second language, Japanese language program, Hawaiian studies and SAVE tutoring program.
 •  Computers: At least two in every classroom, plus a lower-grade computer lab and another in the library for students in the upper grades.
"This is such a wonderful opportunity for us to have the classrooms completely refurbished," she said.

The school has had many famous people walk its open-air halls as students, among them Nainoa Thompson, who became chief navigator of the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hokule'a and a University of Hawai'i regent; Dave Shoji, coach of the UH women's volleyball team; and U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka, who taught music and Hawaiiana at 'Aina Haina Elementary before embarking on a political career.

• What are you most proud of? The academic success of the students, the dedication of the teachers and the support from the parents, Chee said.

"The students thrive academically and socially," Chee said. "This couldn't be done without the parents."

This year the school was chosen for the Opera in Residence program, she said. Students have tried out for one of 70 parts in Bizet's "Carmen." Students will work with professional opera singers and backstage people to learn how to build a set and put on a performance.

• Best-kept secret: That the school is completely wired for computers. That there are two computer labs for the students to use. And that the school works to incorporate enrichment courses as well as the basics.

• Everybody at our school knows: Candace Foster, school librarian for the past 10 years. Foster encourages students to use the library before school, during recess and after school, and that has helped make it the campus gathering place, Chee said. Before school starts till after the last bell has rung, Foster encourages students to use the library to play games such as chess or to work on the computer. She also helps students do research.

• Our biggest challenge: To get more money. As a small school, Chee said, it's often difficult to get money for the kind of programs that parents and teachers want to offer the students. And with a school that is more than 50 years old, it is often difficult to get equipment updated, like the phone system, or get the library repainted, and install a real audio studio in the library, she said.

• What we need: Wiring for telephones in each of the 36 classrooms, and an upgrade for the computer lab.

• Projects: Just this past fall the school formed a partnership with Kilauea Ohana Play School, which allows it to integrate the school's special-education classes in a social environment.

• Special events: May 3 is May Day, and on May 17 the school will perform the "Carmen" opera at the annual spaghetti dinner.

To get your school profiled, contact education editor Dan Woods by phone at 525-5441 or by e-mail at dwoods@honoluluadvertiser.com.