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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 26, 2005

School sensitive to needs of military dependents

By James Gonser
Advertiser Staff Writer

A special tree grows at Mokulele Elementary School — a "deployment tree."

Mokulele Elementary School teacher Kathy Inouye helps students Destini Xavier, left, and Talia Ethridge with a computer exercise. Almost the entire student body is military dependents.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Painted on the wall outside of the library is a tree decorated with cut-out paper stars. Each star bears the name of a student's parent who is deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan or other distant part of the world.

The tree is part of the school's Primary School Adjustment Program which gives special attention to students with emotional needs or who have a parent who is deployed.

"When parents are deployed, it's a big deal," said principal Teri Ushijima. "Some students have a harder time adjusting. (The program) is an opportunity to provide a little extra TLC so that they feel a little better."

Mokulele is located on Hickam Air Force Base, and almost the entire student body is comprised of military dependents. More than 50 of the 528 students have a parent deployed overseas.

Sheri Ioli, director of the adjustment program, said the children with a parent away have different social and emotional needs that need to be addressed. The students are brought together in groups to share activities and talk. The first step is making a decoration for the deployment tree, she said.

"At the start of the deployment they decorate the tree and they can see that as a visual sign that we are keeping their moms and dads in mind," Ioli said.

Ioli said in some cases, there may be only one student in a classroom with a parent in a war zone and when others talk about doing things with their parents, especially during the holidays, it can make them sad or lonely.

The program brings those children together to talk in group sessions about how their lives have changed, and it helps when they realize they are not the only children going through this experience, she said.

"They talk about how they are feeling and make gifts," Ioli said. "We give them worry stones and make dream-catchers. We discuss different ways to identify how they are feeling, get a grasp on it, accept it, and we let them know what they are feeling is OK."

• What are you most proud of? "The caring teachers," said principal Ushijima. "They really have the students' best interests in mind."

• Best-kept secret: On the first day of the public school teachers strike in 2001, then-principal Richard Nasaka planted a pua- kenikeni tree on campus in support of the teachers. The tree blossomed for the first time this spring.

• Everybody at our school knows: Physical education teacher Delcy Saito. She teaches all grades, including students with special needs. She was recognized by the Hawai'i State Teachers Association as an outstanding teacher this year.

• Our biggest challenge: Helping a constant stream of new students feel welcome. On average, military students move every three years, Ushijima said. The school has created a transition center where new students and parents meet with a coordinator to help them get settled and answer questions about the community. "To welcome them," Ushijima said. "We also assess the students and provide tutors if needed. When they move from place to place it is really difficult for them."

• What we need: Air conditioning. "With the planes flying over and the freeway nearby, air conditioning would be really nice. It makes a big difference in how they learn," she said.

• Projects: The students are taking part today in Memorial Day observances by picking flowers and making lei for various public events this weekend.

• Special event: The sixth-grade graduation will be held June 6, with more than 60 students heading to Aliamanu Middle School.

Reach James Gonser at 535-2431 or jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com

• • •

At a glance

Where: 250 Aupaka St., on Hickam Air Force Base

Phone: 421-4180

Web address: www.k12.hi.us/~mokulele/

Principal: Teri Ushijima has been at the school only five weeks but formerly was a teacher there. Most recently she was vice principal at Moanalua High.

School nickname: Flyers

School colors: Blue and yellow

Enrollment: 528 students, down slightly from 566 students last year and 588 students the previous year. There were as many as 1,000 students at Mokulele during the Vietnam War.

Testing: Here's how Mokulele Elementary pupils fared on the most recent standardized tests:

• Stanford Achievement Test: Listed is the combined percentage of pupils scoring average and above average, compared with the national combined average of 77 percent. Third-grade reading, 92 percent; math, 93 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 84 percent; math, 90 percent.

• Hawai'i Content and Performance Standards tests: Listed is the combined percentage of pupils meeting or exceeding state standards, and a comparison with the state average. Third-grade reading, 53 percent, compared with state average of 46.7 percent; math, 26 percent, compared with 26.7 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 59 percent, compared with state average of 49.9 percent; math, 22 percent, compared with 22.5 percent.

History: Mokulele opened in 1961 on land leased from the federal government to provide an education for the growing number of military families stationed in Hawai'i during the Vietnam War.

Special features: The school has a Hawaiian Studies Program to expose military dependents to the art, music and culture of the Islands. The Hickam Youth Center is located across the street and offers a variety of activities for students, including sports, personal development and social programs.

Computers: The school has a computer lab in the library with 30 IBM computers recently donated by the Joint Venture Education Forum, a partnership between the military and the Department of Education to help children of military families. The school also has a mobile laptop computer lab and computers in every classroom.