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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 12, 2006

Budget cut hurts drama program

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer

KANE'OHE In an attempt to stay within its budget under Act 51, Castle Complex plans to cut the performing arts teaching position for its eight elementary schools.

While it is just one position and the $67,000 in funds for the program that targets fourth-graders will be redirected elsewhere, the program's elimination from next year's budget will affect hundreds of children.

A similar scenario is being played out at the Kahuku Complex, where a science resource teacher position is being slashed for the same reason.

Schools that will lose money under a new funding formula mandated by Act 51 the Reinventing Education Act are now considering whether to cut some positions they have grown accustomed to.

Cheryl Nakai, whose fourth-grade daughter was in the program at Kapunahala Elementary School, said she's seen how the performing arts program, which Castle Complex has had the past 15 years, transforms children. Some of the children wouldn't raise their hands in class or speak up, but that changed with the program's help, Nakai said.

"They took a chance to express themselves," Nakai said. "It gave them a positive view of themselves."

Lea Albert, Castle/Kahuku complex superintendent, said deciding how to spend limited resources under the weighted student formula is a difficult task.

Under the new formula, more than half the state's 250-plus traditional public schools will lose money with the start of the new school year. And personnel is one of the likely places where schools and complexes can make up sizable losses.

Albert said Castle Complex elementary schools can still fold performing arts into studies through school performances, music programs or dramatic reading in classes. She said she supported the decision and believes that schools will continue to provide opportunity for varying types of learners, though now it may be more difficult.

"I always have to be hopeful that people will step up because I have been in the system long enough to remember times when lots of things were done through volunteerism," she said.

Richard MacPherson, the performing arts instructor whose position is being scrapped, said he travels from school to school to teach, and more than 5,000 students have participated in his program over the past 12 years. Recently, he said, he expanded the program's focus on fourth-graders to also include third-graders and sometimes entire schools.

Drama is more than just hamming it up on stage, MacPherson said, noting that children learn cooperation, respect, communication and comprehension skills. In some cases, MacPherson said, student interest in reading picked up because they wanted to be in his class.

"It helps the child who is not doing well change things for himself," he said.

Tami Mack said her 9-year-old son, Jordan, has blossomed in the program.

"My son's teacher calls (acting) his gift," Mack said. "He just would shine."

Jordan, a Kapunahala Elementary student, said performing with "Mr. Mac" helped him learn about Shakespeare. About 40 third- and fourth-graders worked together and helped one another to improve, he said.

"They're great actors," Jordan said. "They're starting to become my friends."

Karen Meyer, director of the award-winning Castle Performing Arts Center, which offers a program geared for children from fifth to 12th grade, said she is saddened by the performing arts budget cut. As the school system emphasis on test scores increases, Meyer said, involvement in the arts can prompt kids to be more motivated students.

"One of the things we're recognized for is our academics," Meyer said. "The kids that go through our program have a higher grade-point average, a lower dropout rate, and higher math and reading SATs than Castle's population in general."

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com.