Island School celebrates birthday; founders recall tough beginnings

LIHUE — Island School opened its doors in Kealia in 1977. Its facility was an old plantation store with only the skeleton of a building that was used to house 12 children. That was the first class of Island School.

Volunteers used to bring paint cans and truckloads of supplies to help support the school in its early stages. But 40 years later, Island School has blossomed into a center of academic achievement.

“You get that feel when you walk in here,” said Shannon Graves, head of Island School. “The founding mothers are very proud of what they started, and they should be. All of our kids are benefiting from their original vision. It’s a feel-good day.”

On Friday, Island School celebrated its 40th birthday with students, faculty and alumni. Among those participating in the celebration were the seven founders of the school, who recalled starting it with nothing but hope.

“When we all get together, it’s like getting thrown back to 1977 all over again when we had nothing,” said Peggy Ellenburg. “When we had absolutely nothing except for perseverance and our talent.”

During her speech in Edith K. Wilcox Gymnasium, Ellenburg recalled how difficult it was to establish the school, citing how she couldn’t even own a credit card without getting a signature from a man for approval.

“I’ve been here for all 40 years, so it’s happened to me incrementally,” Ellenburg told The Garden Island. “My impressions of it are more like, wow, we made it. But the next step was always right in front of us. We always wanted to take the next step.”

Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho, Jr. addressed the crowd as well, and proclaimed Jan. 27 as Island School Day.

Graves is proud of the work that the school has done over the years, and so are the school’s students.

Several students ranging from the elementary to high school level spoke about what they envision the school to look like within the next decade. Some of the younger keiki said that they want a dessert bar next to the salad bar in the cafeteria, while others said they wanted dormitories for foreign students or students on the North Shore.

Student Carolyn Price hopes to see several changes at Island School over the next few years.

“There will be a football field and a swimming pool for our swim team, a girl’s basketball team and more locker rooms for our students.”

Tai Mitchell, student, called for more academic development.

“There will be a full-time high school counselor to help students with their problems,” he said.

But when Graves was asked about what Island School would look like in the next 40 years, all he could do was laugh and smile at the prospect of what the future holds.

“Those kids were right on point with what they wanted in the next five to 10 years,” Graves said. “It’s an exciting time. You start with the kids. I think our plans, along with the kids plans, are right on target. It’s going to be an even more exciting time in the next 10, 20, 30 and 40 years.”

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