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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, November 3, 2009

At Liholiho Elementary, Friday’s still for learning

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

On a furlough Friday, Matthew Young, 9, enjoys himself in a slide-show-making class during Liholiho Elementary School’s Learning Opportunities Program.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Here are the basics, according to Liholiho Elementary School PTA President Lylah Reid-Akana, that are necessary for starting a furlough Friday alternative classroom program:

• Realize the effort calls for endless hours of meetings, discussions and volunteer teamwork, as well as an uncommon commitment from parents, teachers and school staff to see the process through.

• Understand the business requirements. Liability, temporary disability and workers’ compensation insurance will be needed. An unemployment tax license also will be required, as will either child care licensing or an exemption.

• Finally, organizers need to be certain that whatever alternative learning program is chosen does not violate state ethics guidelines.

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Dozens of kindergarten through fifth-grade students attended classes again at Liholiho Elementary School in Kaimukí on Friday — the second of 17 state-imposed furlough days for public school teachers throughout Hawaii.

While kids by the thousands stayed away from classrooms elsewhere, 53 Liholiho students — roughly 18 percent of the school's approximately 300-child enrollment — showed up in costume the day before Halloween.

"I like this so much because there is less work, and it's fun," said second-grader Reece Kadota, 7.

Liholiho may be the only public school in the Islands at which the PTA has successfully planned and implemented an alternative classroom agenda for its students on furlough Fridays.

Its Learning Opportunities Program was designed not to advance what the students would normally learn, which would violate Department of Education policies. Instead, the program applies basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills the students already have to activities such as creative dramatics, ceramics, crafts, music and storytelling.

For example, following morning exercises in the schoolyard, 26 third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students in Ryan Towata's classroom No. 5 engaged in an "intelligent thinking" exercise.

The assignment was to create a ghost or jack-o'-lantern using cardboard, paper, pencils, crayons, scissors and tape. But the challenge was that the finished spooks had to be able to stand or sit on a table — essentially, they had to be 3-D characters. Other than the supplies, the students were given no hint how to accomplish their creation.

"Hey guys," said Totowa , "the best part about furlough Friday is that whatever you do, you're not going to be graded on it. It's going to be fun. But I didn't say it's going to be easy. You've got to use your brain."

Isaac Wong, 9, was the first to finish by cutting out two identical flat ghost shapes and pasting them together back to back and affixing them to a flat cardboard stand. A scary face was carefully drawn on each side of the ghost.

All sorts of other ideas were concocted — cylindrical goblins, A-frame folded jack-o'-lanterns and other clever designs.


Meanwhile, downstairs in Room C-3, 27 kindergarten through second-grade students were rapt listeners as instructor Brandy Aylward read aloud a book entitled, "A Porcupine Named Fluffy."

"Is that a good name for a porcupine?" Aylward asked her audience.

"No!," shouted the giggling students, who thought Spike or Scratchy might be better.

And so it went, as the students journeyed from one application to another, pausing for recess, lunch, and even a 1:30 p.m. Halloween Parade around the campus.

Lylah Reid-Akana, president of the Liholiho PTA and the driving force behind the alternative classroom program, said the most difficult part was clarifying how the PTA program would be implemented in a way that followed complicated DOE guidelines and not to give Liholiho students attending the Friday classes an advantage over those who did not.

Even then, the task was daunting, said Reid-Akana. Putting the finished package together required weeks of volunteer meetings and hours of burning the midnight oil. There were liability, temporary disability, workers' compensation, payroll and unemployment tax license issues to be ironed out.

Most who were involved in the effort say the difficulties were overcome by the fact that everyone involved with the school — parents, teachers, staff — never lost sight of the mission: doing what's best for the students.

Christina Small, who as Liholiho School principal could not be involved in the PTA's Learning Opportunities Program, nevertheless favored the idea.

"At our school, we create a community — like a village," said Small. "And that has been established for a long time here. We all work together for the benefit of the students. And that, I think, is the strength."

Frances Sakai, whose daughter Jessica, 8, is in the third grade at Liholiho, praised the program.

"I've got to give everyone on the PTA so much credit," said Sakai. "It was really a scramble. Because no one knew: Should we do this? Can we get ready? How do we prep? And then they all just did it. And they did an awesome job."

Now, the program's fate could hang on the outcome of legal challenges to state furloughs that the courts will take up beginning today.

But Reid-Akana said she won't be disappointed if the Liholiho alternative program comes to an early end.

"We're proud of it," she said. "Even if the furloughs end, the program still would be a good thing. We'll use these skills and apply them somewhere else — maybe summer school. Who knows?"