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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 28, 2006

Kohala 3 R's and a social conscience

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer

Peer mediators at Kohala Elementary School help resolve a conflict at the tetherball court on the playground.

Kohala Elementary School

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Where: 54-3609 Akoni Pule Highway, Kapa'au, Hawai'i

Phone: (808) 889-7100

Principal: Eleanor Laszlo

School nickname: Colts

School colors: Gold and black

Testing: Here's how Kohala Elementary 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, 68 percent; math, 83 percent. Fourth-grade reading, 60 percent; math, 82 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 72 percent; math, 79 percent.

  • Hawai'i State Assessment: Listed is the combined percentage of pupils meeting or exceeding state standards, and a comparison with the state average: Third-grade reading, 44 percent, compared with state average of 50.2 percent; math, 16 percent, compared with 30 percent. Fourth-grade reading, 37 percent, compared with state average of 58.1 percent; math, 16 percent, compared with 32.5 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 26 percent, compared with state average of 43.5 percent; math, 7 percent, compared with 24 percent.

    Enrollment: About 400

    Low-income enrollment: 54 percent

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    Kohala Elementary School on the Big Island is committed not only to teaching students reading, writing and arithmetic, but also to producing students who are good citizens and good people.

    Principal Eleanor Laszlo, who started as a teacher at Kohala in 1968, said it is important that students understand their place in the community and learn to always "do the right thing." That's just as important as teaching math and reading, she said.

    "We want to get them to be responsible and make the right choices," she said. "We want them to not only be independent learners, but to take responsibility for themselves."

    Three times a week, Laszlo gets on the school's public announcement system and reminds students about "being pono," or doing the right thing.

    The school has three basic rules that all students follow:

  • I control myself.

  • I respect myself and others.

  • I am safe and responsible.

    "The rules are integrated into everything we do," she said. Students are reminded to practice those rules when they're on the playground, at the bus stop, in the cafeteria and even at home, she said.

    The school's behavioral awareness program, called Project Wisdom, has been used for more than five years and has significantly cut down on the number of visits students make to the principal's office, Laszlo said.

    A private company, West Hawaii Mediation Services, has gotten involved by teaching students to become peer mediators.

    A select number of students are taught the ways of conflict resolution, talking out problems and preventing violent conflicts, said Laszlo. The students wear tags identifying them as peer mediators, and other students use them as resources to help with conflicts.

    Kohala Elementary School is nestled in Kapa'au, a small, former plantation community where most parents are employed by the burgeoning resort industry or by the school system, Laszlo said.

    Because the community is so small about 5,000 people Laszlo said it is extra important that students understand the concept of being a good person and contributing positively to society.

    "I've been at this school for so long. Many of my current students, I taught their parents," she said.

    The Kohala schools are essential to the community, Laszlo said. That's why the elementary school, middle school and high school often partner with each other.

    An example of that partnership is Kohala Elementary and High School's Reading Buddies program, where high school students pair with kindergarten students to help with reading and comprehension.

    Laszlo said the program not only allows the kindergartners to sharpen their reading skills, but provides them with positive role models as well.

    "They see older students who enjoy reading and they look up to them," she said.

  • What are you most proud of? "I am most proud of my faculty and staff," Laszlo said. "Our kids want to come to school. That's a good indicator."

  • Everybody at our school knows: "Our school is small enough that everybody knows everybody."

  • Our biggest challenge: Translating the success in the classroom into higher test scores.

  • What we need: Improved electrical capacity to allow for more computers.

    Reach Loren Moreno at lmoreno@honoluluadvertiser.com.