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

Sprawling school takes alternative approach

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

Arian Morris and classmate Pumehana Haihai, both 6, listen to Pumehana's mother, Katheryn Crayton-Shay, explain counting and money concepts at Waters of Life New Century Public Charter School. Crayton-Shay is director of the school.

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  • Administration, Shipman Industrial Park, Kea'au

  • Grades K-5, 'Ainaloa Longhouse, Pahoa

  • Grades 6-8, 37th Ave., 'Ainaloa Subdivision, Pahoa

  • Grades 9-12, Kea'au Girl Scout Center, Kea'au

  • Farm, Ala Loop, Kurtistown

    Phone: (808) 966-6175

    Director: Katheryn Crayton-Shay, second year

    School nickname: Waters

    School colors: Blue (aquas and ultramarines)

    Web site: watersoflifepcs.k12.hi.us

    History: School's charter founded in 2000, doors opened on July 20, 2000. Original director was Cindy Moriarty-Schieven.

    Testing: Here's how Waters of Life students fared on the most recent standardized tests.

  • Stanford Achievement Test: Listed is the combined percentage of pupils scoring average and above average, compared with the national combined average of 77 percent. Third-grade reading, 38 percent; math, 25 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 60 percent; math, 50 percent. Eighth-grade reading, 51 percent; math, 33 percent. Tenth-grade reading, 43 percent; math, 35 percent.

  • Hawai'i State Assessment: Listed is the combined percentage of pupils meeting or exceeding state standards, and a comparison with the state averages. Third-grade reading, 13 percent, compared with state average of 51.8 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 40 percent, compared with state average of 55.6 percent. Eighth-grade reading, 6 percent, compared with state average of 38.2 percent. Tenth-grade reading, 24 percent, compared with state average of 42.3 percent; math, 5 percent, compared with 19.6 percent. Math scores were not available for students in third, fifth and eighth grades.

    Enrollment: 157 students.

    Percentage of low-income enrollment: 76 percent.

    Computers: Students have daily access to 21 computers; 16 are available at the school's computer lab and five are available in the school's mobile lab.

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    Caitlin Yanni, left, and Kapena Kahililhiwa, right, both 8, work on wireless laptops in the computer lab at Waters of Life New Century Public Charter School's 'Ainaloa campus.

    KEVIN DAYTON | The Honolulu Advertiser

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    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.

  • What are you most proud of? Waters of Life's SPED Internal Review scores confirm continued success with special-education students. The school's special student services coordinator Daniel Shapiro, has earned unquestionable respect in the complex, said Crayton-Shay. The development of the farm curriculum is progressing due to the dedication of the farm manager, Chioke Mims, who has worked with teachers and students to make the farm a safe and comfortable place to learn and grow.

  • Best-kept secret: The continued faith parents have in the school.

  • Everybody at our school knows: Bill McClellen, technology coordinator and all around fix-it person.

  • Our biggest challenge: Waters of Life is spread over five sites in Puna, from Kurtistown to Kea'au, about nine miles apart.

  • What we need: Funding to build a permanent campus for our K-12 students.

    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 kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com.