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 firstname.lastname@example.org.