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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Hongwanji to open nation's first Buddhist high school

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

Establishing the first Buddhist-affiliated high school in the nation, the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai'i will open its Pacific Buddhist Academy in August 2003.

Hongwanji Mission School student Corey Ouchi, 13, left, and Jordan Chung, 14, work on a class project under the supervision of their teacher, Karen Weisberger. The school can accommodate students only through Grade 8.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

The academy would give Hawai'i its first comprehensive system of Buddhist education, from pre-kindergarten through Grade 12.

Honpa Hongwanji Hawai'i Betsuin already operates an education system for preschool through the eighth-grade at its 300-student Nu'uanu campus, the Hongwanji Mission School. There is also a Buddhist Study Center in Manoa for college students and adults.

A dedication service will be held this morning to mark a $1.5 million contribution to the new school from the church's headquarters in Kyoto, Japan. Church dignitaries from Japan, Canada, the U.S. Mainland and South America are in town to discuss plans for the new campus.

The Pacific Buddhist Academy is expected to open for the 2003-04 school year with a focus on a peace curriculum, said Mary Tanouye, temple president.

The college-preparatory curriculum would be rooted in the Buddhist values of compassion and community service.

"It's going to be our signature curriculum," Tanouye said. "It will be peace as a subject and peace as a way of behaving. We will have teachers who are imbued in the teachings of Buddhism."

Ichiro Fukumoto, a retired Department of Education director of planning and evaluation who is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, is helping to design the new academy's curriculum.

"It's really an attempt to teach youngsters to learn and practice the skills to prevent violence and make our communities more peaceful in general," Fukumoto said. "It's not only in a geopolitical sense. It's conflict resolution at home and in the workplace."

The school, working closely with the Spark Matsunaga Institute for Peace at UH and the United Nations Peace Project, will try to create an adjunct faculty team similar to those in university systems.

Hongwanji Mission School is across Pali Highway from the Hongwanji Betsuin. A tunnel walkway connects both.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

A boarding program for Neighbor Island students is under consideration, as is the idea of satellite learning centers at temples across the state that would allow students in those areas to take outreach classes.

The school faces an uphill battle in fund raising, though. School officials say it will take about $10 million to begin to operate a high school. And while the $1.5 million gift will give the school a generous kickstart, school officials say they have a long way to go in raising that much money locally.

"I think it goes to the tradition of the religion," said vice principal Teddi Yagi. "We don't do proselytizing. We don't really go out and solicit, and it's been a detriment. We don't have that tradition."

Alan Tomita, education committee chairman at the Nu'uanu temple, said the mission is trying to get the high school incorporated as a separate legal entity so fund raising can begin.

Janet Honda, whose 21-year-old son attended the mission school's classes from preschool through the eighth grade, said she would have loved to have kept him there for high school. "They've talked about this for years, but it is just a matter of money," she said.

Tuition at the mission school is about $5,500 a year. High school tuition would be in the same range.

"It may be that this will fill a niche," said George Tanabe Jr., a religion professor at UH-Manoa. "They already have a pool of students who would willingly go on in the school. They don't have to build from scratch."

Still, Tanabe said accreditation requirements, capital improvement needs and the fresh start can make it difficult to open a high school.

Renovations to a campus building that now houses the Young Buddhist Association will start this summer. The library and administration offices will likely move there, opening up six to eight classrooms for freshmen. The school plans to phase in a grade each year.

Later, a separate campus may be built on land behind the temple on Pali Highway.

Parent Glenn Doi said he will consider sending his sixth-grade daughter to the new high school when it opens. She has been attending classes there since preschool, and Doi likes the small class sizes there.

"You know who is supposed to be here and who isn't," Doi said. "You know all the faculty and the administration. It's a nice place. I'm very comfortable here and the school is very competitive academically."

Chance Matsumoto, 13, said he plans to attend Lutheran High School next year, but said continuing high school at Hongwanji would have been easier.

"I would probably do it just to avoid going to all of the trouble of doing the applications to other schools," he said.

Emily Zia, 13, the student council president who will go to Iolani School next year, said she would have stayed for other reasons.

"I got to know everyone really well," she said. "Everyone is really friendly and supportive."

The school has a long history in Hawai'i. The campus opened in 1902 as the Japanese Language School, but was closed, along with all Buddhist temples and Japanese schools, during World War II.

In 1949, the Hongwanji Mission School opened for elementary-age students. The middle school opened in 1994.

Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.