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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 27, 2003

Housing projects' campus rises to challenges

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Linapuni Elementary School is used to challenges.

Second-graders at Linapuni Elementary School practice dance moves in their classroom in Kalihi. The school's annual Spring Celebration fund-raiser held last week included cultural dances.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

The school is so crowded that hallways and lanai are used for individual instruction and counseling, and two classes have to fit into the cafeteria.

Some 99 percent of the school's 298 students live in Kuhio Park Terrace and Kuhio Homes, federally subsidized housing projects that surround the campus, and qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

The percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price meals is a common measure of poverty — considered a major risk factor for children.

"We have lots of students that are straight from Samoa and Micronesia," said Principal Helen Wong. "It's a challenge to bring them up to the educational level in Hawai'i. We have to do a lot of catch-up with them. A lot of the students come in not knowing their colors, numbers, shapes, even basic readiness for school, like to sit and listen and work within their own space. Basically, what they should have learned in preschool, but many never attended preschool."

In spite of the challenges, Linapuni was recognized as a National Blue Ribbon school in 1994.

"I think we do a good job at laying the foundation for reading in spite of the many challenges that come to us. Our teachers try to meet the needs of all students," Wong said.

Linapuni is one of two abbreviated elementary schools in the state, serving students from kindergarten to third grade. It is the only school within the grounds of a state housing project, and with less than an acre of land, it is one of the state's smallest public school campuses.

Wong said another challenge is teaching parents how to work with their children and be a part of their education.

Stacy Kim Choy, the school's Parent Community Networking Coordinator, has done volunteer work at the school since her daughter, who is now in seventh grade, attended Linapuni.

Kim Choy plans workshops for parents covering school activities and programs and serves as the parents' advocate with teachers.

"Whatever the parents' concerns, I go back and let the teachers know and we work it out," Kim Choy said.

Last year, when parents said they didn't know when their children were being assigned homework, Kim Choy helped set up a school planner for students to take home every day.

"Now the children have to write down what they have to do, and the parents can open the planner and say, 'OK, do your homework,' " Kim Choy said.

In 1999, the state Board of Education planned to close the elementary school to make way for a preschool, but parents, students and teachers rallied to save Linapuni.

Having the school so close to their homes and within the confines of the housing projects is great comfort for students and parents, Kim Choy said.

"A lot of the parents work and they don't really have to worry about their children," Kim Choy said. "They are right here in the community. It's more like a family. Everybody knows each other."

Linapuni added its third grade two years ago.

Wong said the excellence and dedication of the teachers and staff is still of blue ribbon quality, but the results of the schools' first third-grade testing was not. Students did poorly on both the Stanford Achievement Test and the Hawai'i Content and Performance Standards test, she said.

"We were kind of disappointed in that, and that is why we are working on our school improvement plan to address it," Wong said. "The evaluation for the blue ribbon is not just the scores, it is the make up of the school, the facilities, your plans. All of that. Teachers work so hard getting our kids to read. I think the students feel special coming here."

• What are you most proud of? "The feeling of working together that the teachers and staff have. We do have challenges, but we are a close-knit faculty," Wong said.

• Best-kept secret: Few people can find Linapuni inside its "gated community."

• Everybody at our school knows: School custodian Donald Goo. "He is an all-around helper and sometimes disciplinarian," Wong said. "He does whatever he can to accommodate all out needs."

• Our biggest challenge: Space. There is no room on campus for any more classrooms, even portables. With just two classroom buildings, a cafeteria and a small play area, the campus is overshadowed by the housing projects. Every classroom is filled to the ceiling with books, student artwork and lessons that even hang from clotheslines to take advantage of every bit of open space.

• What we need: For grass to grow in around the newly built outdoor gathering space so it can be used for school assemblies.

• Projects: A $10,000 grant from The Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation is being used to enlarge the computer lab. "Part of our obligation is to expose the students to technology," Wong said. "Not every home here has a computer like other neighborhoods. We ordered laptops so teachers can borrow some to take them to their classrooms."

• Special events: The annual Spring Celebration held last week with games, food, and ethnic dancing is the school's major fund-raiser.

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

• • •

At a glance

• Where: 1434 Linapuni St., inside Kuhio Park Terrace and Kuhio Homes housing projects.

• Phone: 832-3303

• Web address: www2.hawaii.edu/~saranill/Linapuniweb/

• Principal: Helen Wong, four years at the school.

• School nickname: Eagles

• School colors: Royal blue and white

• Enrollment: 298 students, and they are overflowing.

• Standardized tests: Here's how Linapuni Elementary students fared on the most recent standardized tests. 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: 63.4 percent; math: 50.8 percent.

Hawai'i Content and Performance Standards tests: Listed is the combined percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards, and a comparison with the state average. Third grade, reading: 10 percent; math: 1.7 percent. State third-grade average, reading: 42.3 percent; math: 20.2 percent.

• History: Established in 1965, Linapuni was build to accommodate the large number of young children living in the public housing projects.

• Special features: A new playground apparatus was installed last summer.

• Special programs or classes: The Institute of Beginning Reading program uses phonemic awareness to teach reading, with the goal of getting all students reading at grade level by third grade.

• Computers: There are at least two computers in every classroom and a lab with more than 20 computers.