Keith Kitamura was born and raised on Kauai. He attended three Kapaa schools: Kapaa Elementary, Middle and High School.
Today, he is the peer mediation instructor at Kapaa High School. The program empowers students to create a school environment that is safe and peaceful where everyone can have a higher respect and care for each other.
Kitamura, a graduate UH Manoa, with a bachelor’s in secondary education math and a master’s in school counseling, has seen the benefits of peer mediation and how it has changed the environment at KHS.
“The counseling part is where my background in peer mediation came from,” he said.
The Garden Island: How many years have you taught?
Keith Kitamura: It’s my ninth year teaching at Kapaa High, seventh year as adviser for Peer Mediation Club ‘Ohana.
TGI: What do you like about teaching?
KK: Having a career knowing you can make an impact every single day. It’s very rewarding and fun to be a mentor to students over the years. Being in the classroom is never boring and there’s always something new.
TGI: What do you dislike about teaching, if anything?
KK: Bureaucracy at the federal and state levels. Sometimes they need to just let us do our jobs as professionals. And pay us more. We just need the time and resources to get it done.
TGI: Is there anything you wish you could change about our way of educating youth?
KK: Technology is becoming more prevalent within the classroom and we need more resources for teachers to use.
TGI: How did your anti-bullying program get started?
KK: When we first started peer mediation, the students and I all sat down and came up with ideas and objectives that we could do to help our school and community. Conducting presentations in classrooms at the elementary, middle and high school levels definitely help spread the word. Along with conflict resolution and anger management, bullying was a major point of emphasis. Our program has developed over the years and now we conduct presentations on anti-bullying around the island.
TGI: How have you seen it benefit teens? Please give a few specific success stories.
KK: Every presentation that we do, I put an emphasis on “saving that one life.” Helping that one student that might feel alone and thinking the only way out is by taking his or her own life. We want them to know that they’re not alone and we’re here to help. If in all my years of running this program we’re able to save just one life, then it makes it all worth it.
I’ve seen students mature and grow into young adults and future leaders of our community. Students that were once seen as one’s that would bully others would speak to younger students about how they’ve changed and regret what they’ve done. Other students have gotten emotional during presentations because they themselves or someone they love is being affected by bullying.
TGI: Were you ever bullied as a child and if so, what happened?
KK: Nothing really out of the ordinary, but it was a challenge like every other kid. I was fortunate to have an older brother and be involved in sports, which allowed me to make new friends.
TGI: How did your parents influence your formative years?
KK: My dad taught me a lot of skills like fishing and sports. My mom, Elaine, gave me strength and passion for the things that I do and to always treat people with respect. My parents divorced shortly after high school. My mother remarried and my stepdad, Monty Downs, has been a great support for me throughout the years. I appreciate everything that he does and he treats me like a son.
TGI: How did you become disabled?
KK: I was in a car accident when I was a senior at Kapaa. I broke my back and four ribs with some internal injuries. I was 17 years old.
TGI: How did you overcome its limitations, which I suspect you’ve probably never seen as limitations?
KK: A lot of people have helped, supported and encouraged me over the years, especially my Mom and family members along with great friends. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them. I was taught from a young age to never give up and always do your best. Family, coaches and teachers all had an impact to give me the confidence to overcome. The rest was up to me. Just take it day by day, keep striving for your goals no matter how hard it gets, and you’ll eventually get there. There will be setbacks, but remember tomorrow is always a brand-new day. The accomplishment is in the struggles you go through and overcome to achieve your goals. You can do anything in life, it’s just a matter of how bad you’re willing to work for it.
TGI: What’s your favorite book and why?
KK: I’ll give you two. “Life Application Bible” and “For God and Country” by former Air Force Academy football coach, Fisher DeBerry. Both taught me about personal character and making a positive impact upon people around you.
TGI: What place do you long to visit and why?
KK: I love to experience new things, so I’m up for anything. Watching Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos at Mile High would be one for the bucket list. But, we live in paradise; it doesn’t get much better than this.