KEKAHA — Accreditation processes are lengthy and stressful, particularly for a small school like St. Theresa Catholic School in Kekaha.
It was a painstaking two-year process for the school, and for first-year Principal Wendy Castillo, it was a lot of pressure.
“Our accreditation process was long,” Castillo said. “They looked back over three years of all our records and testing results. Then their team came on campus and stayed here for four days and went through everything from our lesson plans to our finances.”
In passing what was an essentially an audit, Castillo and her school didn’t just receive accreditation — they passed with flying colors.
“We were rated effective or highly effective in all areas. But in their words, and one of my favorite quotes from the report is, that we ‘turned the corner’ and are on solid ground,” Castillo said.
The future is looking bright for St. Theresa, but not just because it has been awarded accredited status for the next six years. The real story behind St. Theresa is the bond between its teachers and student body, or as Castillo prefers to call them, “learners.”
“Every day, little things are coming together and we’re getting stronger. And I want people to know that we’re expanding,” she said. “Our enrollment is on a rising trend. We’re looking at our biggest boom year for the first time in a long time. It’s exciting because it’s been awhile.”
Castillo stepped in as principal for St. Theresa Catholic School this year after teaching at the school for 13 years. In the past year, an enrichment program was introduced for grades three through eight.
Offering cinematography, self-defense and Science Olympiad classes with volunteers from the community and parent groups, St. Theresa’s revitalization project has truly been a community effort, said Castillo.
“The kids love it. Everyone is really on board,” she said.
Enrollment currently stands at 122, a large increase from a couple years ago when enrollment stalled at 80. Castillo said they already have 100 students preregistered for next school year, and is already closing classes due to growing interest from parents and guardians.
Having small classes allows the teachers and students more one-on-one time that has made learning a more comfortable and fun experience not only for the kids, but also for teachers, they say.
“It’s a joy teaching here. These students bring light to my classroom. Just pure light and joy. Every day is a learning experience with them,” said Dina Akutagawa, who teaches preschool. “From last year to this year, it’s been nothing but positive with Wendy as our principal. It feels so good to be on a staff that feels like a family.”
A renewed sense of pride fills the classrooms; the students all stand and greet Castillo whenever she walks into a room.
Seventh-grader Matthew Taeza said that there isn’t a better place to learn and grow as a person intellectually and spiritually.
“My favorite part of St. Theresa is that we get to learn about God. Not many other places have as good of teachers as we have here,” Taeza said.
Taeza’s classmate, Braeanna Moises, feels the same way.
“The atmosphere, it’s a like a family,” she said. “Everyone knows everyone here and we also get a really good education.”
Akutagawa loves that older students students like Taeza and Moises make time during recess to hang out with the preschool students at the playground, saying that every student treats each other as “one big ohana.”
“The upper-grade children come up to play with the preschoolers and the little ones love it and the community sees that,” she said. “I’m really grateful that parents are sending their children here because it’s really a wonderful school.”