‘The future is bright’

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    Ari Silver, a kindergarten teacher at Alakai O Kauai Charter School at Kahili Mountain Park near Omao, waits with her students to perform during grand opening festivities on Saturday.

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    Alakai O Kauai Charter School staff and students are joined by officials and others at the school’s grand opening and ribbon-cutting on Saturday on the campus at Kahili Mountain Park.

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    Joleina Jhayna Cumlat readies to take a swing to try and ring the bell at one of the activities for keiki at the grand opening of Alakai O Kauai Charter School at Kahili Mountain Park on Saturday. She is watched by, from left, Crystal and CJ Llego and Cariee Quinones.

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    Lady Ipo Kahaunaele-Ferreira gives the blessing at the grand opening of Alakai O Kauai Charter School at Kahili Mountain Park on Saturday.

Growing up, Denise Trentham often read the book, “The Little Engine that Could.”

She never forgot its lessons of perseverance, hard work and hope, and it reminded her of Alakai O Kauai Charter School, where she is the director.

“The school is very much like the little engine that could,” she said. “We think we can, we think we can, we think we can. It’s been a five-year process to get us here and now that we’re here, we know we can. We know that we can offer a fabulous, alternative educational setting for your kids.”

Trentham was one of several speakers at the school’s grand opening celebration on a rainy Saturday morning.

A ribbon-cutting, blessing, music, activities for keiki and school tours were part of the festivities at the school’s scenic setting at Kahili Mountain Park.

About 150 students in kindergarten through fifth-grade attend the free charter school, whose emphasis is not just academics, Trentham said. It is a place where they will also “learn a lot about themselves and what it means to be part of a true ohana learning community.”

“We’re going to have a great time and learn a lot,” she said.

DrB Blackwell pointed out the school does not have desks for students, but rather, tables and chairs to create an atmosphere that encourages creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving.

The school includes a garden, playground equipment and gymnasium.

“We want you to understand this is a brand-new baby,” said Blackwell, past board president who has been the strongest and most recognizable advocate for the school from day one. “But it’s going to be here forever. And it’s going to be something for Kauai, for Kauai schoolkids. And it’s free. It’s an amazing way of learning.”

Parent Tricia Ferry said her 8-year-old son Liam is in third grade at Alakai and has been thriving in the four weeks since it opened.

He enjoys the outdoor setting by Kahili Mountain and the engaging environment in the classroom.

“He’s so enthusiastic about school,” she said. “It’s wonderful. I’m already seeing such a huge, dramatic change in him.”

John Kim, chairman of the Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission, said Alakai overcame many struggles.

School organizers’ efforts to have the charter school approved were turned down several times, but they didn’t quit.

“This grand opening testifies that those challenges were overcome,” Kim said. “So the future is bright. The education of your keiki is in good hands.”

Mel Rapozo, Kauai County Council chair, spoke of the “power of the dream.”

“What a great story,” he said.

Rapozo praised Blackwell for her persistence.

“I don’t know how many would have continued,” he said. “I know others were involved, but she really was the lighthouse for everybody.”

Bill Arakaki, superintendent of Kauai public schools, liked what he was seeing Saturday morning.

“When you see children smiling, running around, learning, that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

Whether public, private, charter or home-based schools, Arakaki said they are united in educating students and he welcomes Alakai into their ohana.

“Together, we can,” Arakaki said.

Blackwell told a story of emailing John Horwitz, board member of Knudsen Trust.

Alakai was having trouble finding a site until Knudsen Trust approved it to move into the former home of Kahili Adventist School.

“Can’t we make this happen?” she wrote to Horwitz, who was in Europe at the time.

He responded: “Let’s make this happen.”

Horwitz is glad it did.

He said the spirit of Alakai O Kauai, “when the learners really start taking control of their own lives and finding a way to help others,” is taking hold and will continue to grow.

“Thank you for bringing the love and aloha back to Kahili Mountain Park,” he said.


Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.

  1. Don Brown September 30, 2018 10:53 am Reply

    In regards to your recent article regarding “The Future Is Bright”, DrB Blackwell pointed out the school does not have desks for students, but rather, tables and chairs to create an atmosphere that encourages creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving. This quote is certainly PC and “sounds” very nice, warm and fuzzy, but it actually means “we don’t enforce discipline & rules, nor do we strongly emphasize the basics that your child is going to need to succeed in the future”:

    When there is a lack of strong emphasis on reading, writing & arithmetic, I’m afraid the future is mostly cloudy and sad . We will leave the basics to other countries who will then eat our keiki’s lunch when it comes to technological and scientific achievement in the world, and in providing for yourself. Creativity, critical thinking and problem solving are all important, and are great exercises, but without a strong understanding of the basics as a foundation, they mean very little.

    1. Elizabeth Reeves October 8, 2018 10:30 pm Reply

      Aloha, Don, Maybe you are not familiar with the way Hawaii State Public Charter Schools are held accountable to the same academic standards that all Department of Education schools are? Our learners are, in fact, learning the basics of English/Language Arts as well as mathematics …in addition to arts, culture, and STEM (to make STEAM) in an atmosphere that encourages collaboration between age groups and within projects of their choosing. Hands-on experiential learning is one of the ways Alaka`i utilizes the latest research-proven educational methods. Our use of tables instead of desks, for example, is a reflection of the current needs of today’s employers and their projected growth of the importance of our ideals of collaboration and creative/design thinking. Not only do we deliver “the basics” but we add to it the foundation of social-emotional learning which builds life skills necessary to work with and relate to others on a deeper level of understanding and compassion. Our leading edge model is already proven successful in other like-minded schools around the world, and growing as a result of the fact that today’s employers are having a hard time finding, and are therefore demanding, more people experienced with 21st Century skills. Sometimes change is hard to accept, but for forward thinkers and our future leaders, it is likely better to embrace it for a brighter tomorrow. Anyone interested to know more about Alaka‘i O Kaua‘i Charter School is welcome to visit; spaces are still available in all grades…we are a tuition free school and all children in grades K-5 are welcome to apply now!

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