Puna student scores improve
By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau
By Kevin Dayton
Kea'au Middle School is rebounding, said principal Jamil Ahmadia. The curriculum has been changed, scores are improving, behavior on campus is improving, students are more upbeat.
Perhaps most important, parents and the rest of the Kea'au community are more deeply involved in the children's education.
"I see now the community took more ownership of the school," Ahmadia said. "They are not looking, pointing fingers at Kea'au Middle, look at all the problems, look what's going on. Now, they're looking at it as Kea'au Middle is part of our community, and whatever is happening at Kea'au Middle is a reflection of the community."
Ahmadia recalled "a low point" several years ago when three students at the Puna school were caught with guns on campus in three separate incidents in a single school year. All three cases were "show-and-tell" incidents in which students brought weapons to show to friends, he said, but the potential for harm was frightening.
"This is when I called the community and said I need help," he said. He contacted businesses, churches, the police, the Family Court. "We sat down and I told them, we are facing some serious issues at this school, and I need help. The whole community got involved with this school."
Since then the Boys and Girls Club of the Big Island has taken over two classrooms and begun providing tutoring, homework coaching, sports activities and other services. The school is now looking for more space to expand the popular program.
Churches and community groups come on campus to paint, to build a new basketball court, or to help replace 150 gym lockers. The 'Ola'a Community Center comes on campus to offer activities such as face painting, art activities, cooking classes and gardening.
The Salvation Army provides counseling and anger management for troubled youths, and the Big Island Substance Abuse Council has a counselor on campus to help sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders who have drug or alcohol problems.
There is more: The National Guard this year started a program for Kea'au Middle students to teach them work skills and other ways to help them prepare for school or jobs, and the students are paid for performance. If they skip out or misbehave, they lose money.
The Army's Pohakuloa Training Area brings motivational speakers to the school and contributed money for books.
All that combined with the efforts of a dedicated staff is challenging students and showing results, Ahmadia said.
"I want to see every parent in our community be proud of Kea'au Middle School and feel that's the school that's going to meet their kids' needs," he said.
What are you most proud of? The faculty's commitment and dedication to the students.
Everybody at our school knows: Auntie Mercy Keopuhiwa, our school security attendant, who has been at Kea'au Middle for more than 20 years. She has wonderful rapport with everyone. As a strong mother-figure on campus, she's firm and respected by all, Ahmadia said.
Our biggest challenge: The school draws from a geographical area of 111.1 square miles, so a large majority of the students are bused to school from as far as 22 miles away. As a result, transportation makes it difficult for students to participate in after-school programs and activities.
What we need: One need is a covered pavilion to provide students with shelter from the rain. Another need would be to increase parent awareness of our school's programs and initiatives.
Reach Kevin Dayton at firstname.lastname@example.org.