Blue school marks move to middle

At the end of the Waimea Canyon School May Day program on May 4, the school bell will ring for 30 seconds to symbolize the end of an era.

The new era will then be ushered in with a celebratory lu‘au for Waimea Canyon Middle School.

“We really want to give thanks,” said teacher Howard Hurst who is the program’s chairperson. “We want to show the community how much we appreciate them and set an example for the children by acknowledging the past graduates and their accomplishments.”

Since the announcement was made in December 2005 of the conversion from a combination kindergarten through eighth-grade school to a middle school for grades six, seven and eight, the school community has been working on the transition.

Miriam Albarado, an educational assistant with a career program who is assisting Hurst, said that when the word first got out, parents were upset. “They didn’t want their children to be bussed to another school,” she said.

“It’s time to move on,” Albarado said. “We’re not able to embrace the middle school philosophy unless we are a true middle school.”

“When I saw pictures of the school since the ‘70s until now (that will be included in a slide show), I realized that change is part of a natural process in school systems,” Hurst said. “Decisions need to be made to follow the growing or shrinking student populations.”

The staff has had a number of professional development opportunities with different experts, Hurst said. Much of it revolved around making decisions based on data, starting with identifying barriers to learning and then finding solutions to those barriers.

“Our focus has been on school improvement and student academic achievement through increased parent and community involvement,” Hurst said. “We believe that when parents get involved at the school, it really gives value to students’ efforts.”

The school, the Parent Community Network Center, PTSO and School Community Council have worked as a team to try to bolster parent involvement. As a result of those efforts, the Science Fair had the most participation in the 11 years that Hurst has been at the school. A reading program night had decent attendance.

Traditionally parents attend elementary school activities, but begin to stay away when children start middle school.

“This important developmental stage is not the time to stay away from participating in school,” Hurst said.

The lu‘au will set the stage for Waimea Canyon Middle School parents to break that mold. With good food and entertainment provided by Waimea Canyon School alumni, family members or students, the message will be one of ‘ohana.

This school year, the sixth-graders joined the seventh- and eighth-graders on the intermediate schedule. Campus areas were developed to minimize the mixing of three grade levels. When classes needed to be mixed, they tried to keep it to six and seven, or seven and eight.

Hurst teaches one of the few six, seven, eight combination classes. Jestina Schmidt and Bryana Resquer-Yorkman, sixth-graders, say it felt good to be part of the intermediate grades. Jayme Knapp said she was looking forward to her friends from other schools coming to join her at WCMS. Although Gavin Moriwake is moving on to the high school next year, he said it was good that they painted the school blue.

Hurst said that he has been to schools and spoken to teachers around the state. He discovered that Waimea Canyon had a reputation of being a tough rural school.

“Few people know how beautiful our campus is and how fantastic our facilities are,” Hurst said.

Hurst said the school has suffered from bad press, having been identified as one the first schools not making the “No Child Left Behind” benchmarks that are part of the Bush administration legislation passed a few years ago.

“Few people know the politics of data keeping,” Hurst said. “They don’t see that we are number one in gains in specific subject areas.”

Hurst said he went on a visitation to an exemplar middle school on the Big Island. When he studied their sixth-grade math and reading scores, he discovered that Waimea Canyon actually did better in reaching the NCLB benchmarks.

“I couldn’t help but get a big head and want to come back to share with the teachers here that we are the exemplar school,” Hurst said.

He said he has seen the ‘ohana working on the May Day and lu‘au program. Every teacher has been putting in additional hours, whether at school or at home. Everyone has been finding resources to supplement the tight funding.

They have already sold 700 lu‘au tickets.

The May Day program will begin at 5 p.m. The lu‘au will follow at 6 p.m. The lu‘au program features master of ceremony Teak Ruby Ano, alumnus and former morning disc jockey with eighth-grade students Chardonnay Rosa-Arango and Malia Keliikuli.

Waimea High School vocalist Kelly Nada is working with the WCS girls’ chorus. Nada will open with the national anthem and “Hawai‘i Pono‘i” and the girls will perform two musical numbers.

The list of performers, current students, past students and family members, include “Tsunami Taiko,” the school band, seventh-grade Noho Hula under the direction of teacher Jayne Pereira, Tiare Anani O Kaua‘i, Halau Ka Lei Mokihana O’ Leinaala and “Still Watah.”

• Cynthia Matsuoka is a freelance writer for The Garden Island and former principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School. She can be reached by e-mail at aharju@kauaipubco.com.

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