OUR SCHOOLS | WATERS OF LIFE NEW CENTURY PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL
Sprawling school takes alternative approach
By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau
By Kevin Dayton
KEA'AU, Hawai'i — When asked to list some things any good gardener should know, Caitlin Yanni perched on a plastic lawn chair at her school's computer lab to arrange her ideas on the petals of a flower displayed on her computer screen.
Typing on a wireless laptop, she offered her reader a warning: Don't be sad if your plant dies, because nothing lives forever.
She would know. Every student at Waters of Life New Century Public Charter School spends at least one day a week at the school's farm in Kurtistown, learning farming from seed to market.
They grow organic lettuce, cabbage, broccoli and other crops, and in just one gardening experiment this year sold more than 100 pounds of vegetables. They prepare potted and cut anthuriums for sale, working in the farm's shade houses.
Then, they return to one of the school's three campuses in Puna for more conventional school lessons with worksheets and computers.
Yanni, a third-grader, was tapping on a laptop at the school's rented 'Ainaloa campus as part of an assessment of what she has learned at the farm, said technology teacher Chery Bradley.
Instruction and offerings at Waters of Life are shaped by the needs of the students it enrolls. To challenge high-achieving high school students, the school leaned heavily on the University of Hawai'i-Hilo, getting its high school students enrolled in college courses through an early-admissions program.
To bring along other high school students who had fallen badly behind, the school devised a way to offer GED training and testing so the struggling students could use the GED testing process to demonstrate they were ready to graduate with their peers.
The school has survived financial challenges, and was criticized for years over alleged management problems and a zoning dispute with neighbors.
The Board of Education twice attempted to revoke the school's charter but finally agreed last year to allow the school to continue on condition it re-allocate the middle school and file quarterly financial and academic reports.
Waters of Life says it has undergone sweeping management changes and corrected problems cited in a critical state audit last year.
The school's charter was written with a focus on teaching autistic children, and about one in five students at the school have been identified as special-education students or pupils with special needs because of learning or behavioral challenges.
Waters of Life is "an inclusion school" where special effort is made to include special-education students in regular education classes, with help from tutors, said Waters of Life Director Katheryn Crayton-Shay.
That appeals to parents, some of whom withdrew their special- education children from conventional public schools because they felt special-education programs were isolating their children from the rest of the students, she said.
Special events: Waters of Life students have participated in these events: Children's Multicultural Art Competition, Ho'o Ike Mau a Mau with Kamehameha Schools, Regional Spelling Bee, Ed Case Art Show (2nd place), HEA Essay Contest (honorable mention), Dolphin Quest, Youth Summit, Hawaii County Fair Logo Design (winner, two years).
Reach Kevin Dayton at email@example.com.