Kohala — 3 R's and a social conscience
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Loren Moreno
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:
"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.
Reach Loren Moreno at firstname.lastname@example.org.