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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 28, 2006

560 kids blend into Hilo Intermediate

By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hilo Intermediate has seen test scores for its seventh- and eighth-graders improve the last two years.

KEVIN D. DAYTON | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Name: Hilo Intermediate School

Where: 556 Waianuenue Ave., Hilo, Hawai'i

Phone: (808) 974-4955

Principal: Elaine Christian

School colors: Blue and white

Mascot: Spartans

Testing: Here's how Hilo Intermediate 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. Seventh-grade reading, 75 percent; math, 81 percent. Eighth-grade reading, 80 percent; math, 82 percent.

  • Hawai'i State Assessment: Listed is the combined percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards, and a comparison with the state average. Seventh-grade reading, 48 percent, compared with state average of 47.3 percent; math, 34 percent, compared with 29.1 percent. Eighth-grade reading, 40 percent, compared with state average of 38.6 percent; math, 25 percent, compared with 25.1 percent.

    Enrollment: 560

    Low-income enrollment: 50 percent in 2005-06

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    The 560 seventh- and eighth-graders who attend Hilo Intermediate come from six feeder schools across the Big Island. With students coming from so many different communities, there could be a lot of trouble at the campus.

    But there isn't.

    "If this were any other school, it would be a war zone," said Principal Elaine Christian. "But here, you see these kids blend. I see them grow."

    Christian, who has been at the school for nine years, said her students overcome a host of economic and personal challenges to succeed.

    Though the school is struggling to meet the demands of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, it has seen test scores improve for the last two years.

    The school was put into restructuring in 2004.

    "We may not be a rich and fancy school," Christian said. "But our kids have so much heart. That's what makes our school unique."

    The school emphasizes students' futures. Students are consistently asked by teachers, staff, even janitors to think about what they want to do when they graduate from high school. What they want to be. Where they will live.

    Christian said she wants all of her students to envision themselves as high school and college graduates. And she often encourages her kids to find mentors in teachers, staff members or members of the community. The idea has caught on in a big way. A custodian at the school who played in the World Series sits with students regularly to talk about what it takes to be a college baseball player.

    And the cafeteria's head cook can often be found discussing the food business with future restaurateurs and chefs. "These kids will seek these people out," Christian said. "It's fairly unique. I see so many opportunities in it."

    Christian says she loves Hilo Intermediate and its students so much she doesn't want to leave. She plans to retire from the school in five or six years.

  • What are you most proud of? "My band," Christian said. "They're Hilo's best-kept secret."

    The school's band is a popular elective among students. About 75 seventh-graders and 50 eighth-graders play and many have never before picked up an instrument. "By the time they get to the eighth grade, these children are really performing in the high school level," Christian said. "If you heard this band, you'd be so amazed."

  • Everybody at our school knows: The school's two security officers: Stephanie Bello and Rodney Augustin. "They're like mom and dad for everybody here," Christian said. "They know all the kids. That's real 'ohana."

  • Our biggest challenge: Meeting ever-increasing expectations, Christian said. The principal said she expects a lot from her kids and they often rise to the challenge. But as soon as they've met one goal, they're expected to meet a new one.

  • What we need: Money. The school lost $87,000 under the state Department of Education's new weighted student formula.

    Christian said she's had to be creative with her budget and budget cuts. This year, kids at the school didn't have a single field trip because the school couldn't afford buses. Though the trips were missed, not a single student or teacher grumbled. "I didn't have one complaint," Christian said.

  • Special event: Before the school went on winter break, kids who read 25 books over the semester got to see a movie at the theater. About 300 kids qualified for the special treat.

    Reach Mary Vorsino at mvorsino@honoluluadvertiser.com.