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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 2, 2002

Students, parents, teachers embrace learning process

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

Waikele Elementary School prides itself on its partnership with kids.

Under the supervision of teacher Susan Shiraishi, Waikele Elementary School students, from left, second-grader Nicole Bradshaw, first-graders Kaleb Akau and Carly Yashiki and second-grader Ellorali Angala, create on a poster about their Nanakuli beach cleanup. Waikele Elementary School is designed to allow students in different grades to collaborate on projects.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Here, the students don't simply receive and memorize information from a teacher.

They attend student-parent-teacher conferences to decide on goals for the year. They keep logs throughout the year that show their progress. Then they prove their accomplishments through papers and presentations to their parents and teacher at the end of the year.

"We do a lot of reflection," Principal Diane Matsuoka said. "Students do reading logs and math logs, which go home with them to their parents. They'll write down whether they understood a lesson, and if they don't get it, then they write specifics on how they didn't get it. Sometimes there's a light bulb, and sometimes there's not."

It all fits into the overarching philosophy at Waikele: that everyone, including the teachers, are learners. And everyone learns in their own way and at their own pace.

Matsuoka said there's a shift in the state toward more reflection and evaluation in teaching. Waikele doesn't want to leave the students out of that movement. Parents, who are used to seeing grades with no explanations attached to a report card, sometimes have a hard time adjusting to the school's philosophy.

"It becomes a real partnership," she said. "The students are very involved in their own learning."

An inquiry approach to learning and a project-based curriculum set Waikele apart from many other campuses.

Carlyn Fujimoto, an administrative intern at the school who will receive her master's degree in educational administration this month, said it also changes the role of the teachers.

"You're trying to tap into the students mind and see where they're at," Fujimoto said. "It's a lot of wonderings. Instead of the teachers saying, 'This is what the paper should look like,' you ask the students, 'What do you think a good paper would be? What kinds of elements would it have?' The teacher is more a facilitator."

The school is in its fourth year and is designed specifically to allow groups of children of different ages to collaborate on projects. Classrooms were designed in pods of four, with a common area in the middle. To be able to afford the pods, the school gave up space in its administration building and the library.

"We looked at what a school should look like," Matsuoka said. "It's based on the beliefs of what works best for learning."

The school keeps students with the same teacher and class for kindergarten, first and second grades. Then they have a different teacher for third and fourth grades, and a new teacher and class for fifth and sixth.

Matsuoka said consistency means that less time is wasted at the beginning of the school year.

The campus has three rules: Take care of yourself; take care of each other; take care of this place.

"This really works for us," Matsuoka said. "We're working on our children becoming problem-solvers. It develops critical thinking."

When students have a problem, teachers and administrators will ask them how they can solve it using the school's rules. Usually, they realize how they have slighted another student or veered off course from the rules, and come up with a way to solve the situation on their own, Matsuoka said.

What are you most proud of? Matsuoka is most proud of the effort the school community has made to work together toward the school's vision, which works as a sort of mission statement for the campus: Everyone learns at different rates and in different ways, all learners need meaningful experiences in a safe, nurturing, intellectually challenging environment, and all learners are valued as loving, caring stewards of the community.

Best-kept secret? Waikele is a more diverse community than many expect at a new school, with 33 percent of the students on the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, 15 percent learning English as a second language and 10 percent in special education.

"The diversity and cosmopolitan flavor of our student body makes for a vibrant and exciting place in which to grow and thrive," Matsuoka said. The Waikele community includes everything from golf-course homes to public housing. "The children are in a situation where this is real life. We're really lucky here because the diversity of the students is so wide."

Everyone at school knows? A variety of school employees, from the principal to the teachers, custodians or cafeteria workers greet the students in the morning, Matsuoka said. But most students are likely to know Matsuoka, the school's first principal.

What we need: Space. The school will go to a year-round, multi-track schedule to accommodate its growing student body in the 2003-2004 school year.

"We're not almost full," Matsuoka said. "We're full."

• • •

At a glance

• Where: 94-1035 Kukula St., Waikele

• Phone: 677-6100

• Web address: www.waikele.k12.hi.us

• Principal: Diane Matsuoka

• School colors: Teal and white

• Enrollment: 830, but the school is built for 750. Next year, officials expect 900 students.

• Computers: The school is entirely networked, with six computers in every classroom and a computer lab with 25 computers. The library has wireless networking capabilities. Technology is integrated into the curriculum.

• SATs: Here's how Waikele 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, 85 percent; math, 84 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 84 percent; math, 92 percent.