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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 21, 2003

Peace-based studies emphasized at new school

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

The first day of school is never easy, but for the ninth-graders yesterday at Pacific Buddhist Academy, even the school was new.

Karli Tanuvasa, 13, is one of 17 students who began classes at the new Pacific Buddhist Academy in Nu'uanu yesterday. The school, with an annual tuition of $7,000, has a college-preparatory curriculum based on peace studies.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

It was a historic day mixed with new teachers, a peace-based philosophy and chanting.

Seven of the 17 students had attended Hongwanji Mission School and knew what to expect, said Joel Merchant, who teaches Buddhist education.

"Ten of the 17 are standing here absolutely mystified today," he said.

It will make for an exciting year, he said.

The school has a college-preparatory curriculum that is built on peace studies, said Principal Pieper Toyama.

"The idea is to teach students in the four years they are here on how to nurture peace, and not only in themselves, but in the community," Toyama said.

They do not have to be Buddhists, he said. In fact, he would prefer that there be a mix of cultures and religions.

"You can't teach peace without diversity," Toyama said.

Students will learn traditional subjects but also Buddhist teachings, he said.

"We're all one," he said. "And we must be aware of this moment. We must live mindfully in the moment. And we must be compassionate."

Families were drawn to the school by that philosophy, which is normally taught at the college level, and by small class sizes.

Tuition is $7,000 a year and all students must purchase a laptop computer into which the school will download all necessary classroom and library materials.

There will even be a cross country team, kendo instruction and taiko drumming.

After the school was announced in May 2002, inquiries came from as far away as Europe and Australia.

The school plans to expand with a new grade each year, but if someone wants to attend this year, Toyama won't turn them away, even now.

The school year opened yesterday with smiles and blessings.

In the main temple of Honpa Hongwanji Hawai'i Betsuin, the students, each dressed in black slacks and a gray polo shirt, meditated and listened to welcoming speeches.

"I want you to be a decent, simple person," said Chikai Yosemori, bishop of Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai'i. "A person with a good heart that is reflected in his behavior and his heart."

Reach Mike Gordon at 525-8012 or mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com.