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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 2, 2006

Getting back on track at ASSETS

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer

Blue Eisen, left, an introduction to engineering instructor, helps student Addison Bowles with a boat-making project.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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AT A GLANCE

Where: One 'Ohana Nui Way

Phone: 423-1356

Web address: www.assets-school.net

Head of School: Lou Salza

Principals: High school, Patti Jenks; kindergarten-eighth grade, Randy Drabman

School nickname: Admirals

School colors: Red, white and blue

Enrollment: 380

History: Established in 1955 when an organization was created to help meet the special education needs of military families in Hawai'i. In 1969, ASSETS began its modern mission of serving students with learning differences and a few years later started serving military and nonmilitary students.

Special programs or classes: High school mentorship program, after-school enrichments

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For five decades ASSETS School has nurtured students who have fallen through the cracks of the traditional school system.

From the student who is ashamed to read aloud because his skills have not progressed as fast as others to the student who doesn't feel challenged enough by standard curriculum, ASSETS School has been a lifesaver in a sea of hopelessness.

Tomorrow, the school that has helped countless dyslexic, gifted or gifted-dyslexic students learn will celebrate its 50th birthday with a giant cake and ice cream. It will be a celebration of the thousands of children ASSETS has put back on the road to academic success, said headmaster Lou Salza. But it will also be about the future and the many more students ASSETS hopes to reach, he said.

"We take kids who have been very frustrated in their attempt to learn in regular school and we've strategically designed a program that meets their needs for academics as well as a support system on the emotional side," Salza said.

ASSETS also has become a knowledge bank for teachers in the traditional school system to learn methods for educating students who learn differently.

And the small private school nestled between Honolulu International Airport and Hickam Air Force Base is looking to expand its campus so it can reach even more children who need its help, Salza said.

Mollie Sperry, headmaster of Academy of the Pacific, was one of the first educators to participate in workshops at ASSETS School. She said ASSETS helps fill an important need in the education community.

"ASSETS has done quite a remarkable job about educating educators and parents about dyslexia and gifted-dyslexia," Sperry said. "They provide a place where someone with this learning difference can get the tools they need to succeed."

Students who come to ASSETS have what is clinically referred to as a learning disability. But Salza and his teachers refuse to accept that. Instead Salza believes the students simply learn differently, and curriculum needs to be tailored to their differences.

"The only thing that makes it a disability is the way we structure the general education environment," Salza said.

At ASSETS, teachers utilize a "multisensory" approach to learning students see it, touch it, hear it. Dyslexic and gifted children both respond academically to hands-on, theme-based, small-group learning, Salza said.

Teachers have very small classes about one teacher to eight students and use a systematic and structured approach to teaching.

Art is one of the ways teachers are able to reach students in almost every subject area math, science, literature. And art is everywhere around campus.

Hi'i Lei Dye, a gifted student and 1999 graduate, said ASSETS gave her the ability to look at problems in many different ways. While in college, Dye said she was able to use skills learned at ASSETS to adapt to many different teaching styles.

"The class sizes were small enough so the teacher could tailor every single lesson to you personally," Dye said. "I would get something totally different than the student sitting next to me."

While ASSETS is obviously different from traditional schools, it is also different from schools with similar missions across the country.

"Unlike our brother and sisters across the country, we don't have a bunch of people in white coats doing clinical stuff around here," Salza said.

Many students at ASSETS come from the traditional school system, stay a year or two and then re-enter the traditional school system. ASSETS provides those students with a "tool box" they can access while in the traditional environment to help them learn and grow intellectually, Salza said.

The school also has adopted the goal of educating the public about learning differences such as dyslexia. Salza emphasizes that early identification and testing of learning disorders will help put children on the road to success much sooner.

"The longer these situations are allowed to roll and ride, the more complicated they get," Salza said.

For 10 years, the school has offered summer training courses for teachers in private and public schools. "Schools like ASSETS help all schools better understand these important issues," Salza said. "We couldn't build a school big enough to get all the kids who need our help."

ASSETS' mission is symbolized by the half-dozen pictures, drawings and wood carvings of the honu in Salza's office. The honu represent the students and it is ASSETS' job to take them out of the sea of hopelessness and back into the sea of possibility.

"Lets get these students over the sand and into the water where they can swim freely," Salza said.

  • What are you most proud of? "I am most proud of ASSETS' half-century of service to Hawai'i's children and families and the impact this school has had during that time on the community's understanding of different learning needs," Salza said.

  • Best-kept secret: Our former students, Salza said. High school graduates and those that leave ASSETS before then go on to become enormously successful in life, he said.

  • Everybody at our school knows: Sandy Tadaki, director of admissions. She is the longest-tenured member of the ASSETS staff and is "a great supporter and cheerleader of our students both inside and outside the classroom," Salza said.

  • Our biggest challenge: Finding a way to expand infrastructure, Salza said. ASSETS currently serves nearly 380 students on three acres of land.

  • What we need: Space.

    Reach Loren Moreno at lmoreno@honoluluadvertiser.com.