OMAO — Third-grader Hayden Renz does not have homework.
Instead, she turns in a well-researched project at the end of each quarter.
She’s one of about 130 students in grades kindergarten through six who attend Alaka‘i O Kaua‘i Charter School, which uses hands-on projects to teach students how to be self-directed learners. The school’s been open since August 2018, and is open for enrollment in February.
Since opening their doors, the school has built up an enrollment of 137 students, with 10 teachers, one being a special needs teacher. Their goal is to have a maximum of 225 in three years. This is the first year that their sixth-graders will be transferring to a middle school of their choice.
The difference between Alaka‘i O Kaua‘i Charter School and some of the other schools on the island, faculty and students say, is the emphasis on hands-on learning.
Renz said one of her favorite projects has been learning how to build a fire.
“There were three groups: research, planning and materials to make the fire,” Renz said. “At the end of the day we watch a video, then we have a project that is educational.”
Ziggy Pelc, also a third-grader, said he likes the projects he’s been doing in class, too.
“I like learning about podcast and getting ideas for our podcast that we are working on to create,” Pelc said.
According to the school’s director of curriculum and assessment Linda Krystek, the school is partnered up with iLead, a California-based program that believes there is more to learning than just reading text books.
“We believe that by playing sports, doing music, using their imagination or having our students engaged in hands-on projects they will become better self-directed learners and transition to middle school better,” said Krystek. “There is no research that says having homework helps them, but they will have to make that adjustment in sixth grade.”
School Director Fred Birkett pointed out the school is just a little different, “not better than any other school.”
Birkett is the author of “The Military Parent’s Guide to Public, Private and Charter Schools” and “A Parent’s Complete Guide to Public, Private, and Charter Schools.” He received his master’s degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Before he went to teach graduate student-teachers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, he spent eight years as a captain for the U.S. Air Force.
Educators at the school teach students how to research, and self-direct their learning from the start to the finish of a project, while their social emotional needs are addressed and met through their individual learning plans. No two individual learning plans are the same. The school also adheres to the IEP (Individual Education Plan) process.
IEP helps teachers know what curriculum they will go over for special needs students or students with learning disabilities versus giving all the students the same learning plan.
Birkett encourages parents to tour the school before enrollment happens in February.
“We are open for enrollment in February, and parents are welcomed to come check out our school and shadow their child for a day,” said Birkett.
A new program of note is the “Kindness is Contagious” club, encouraging good behavior, respect for others and relationship-building.
Teacher and parent Malissa Phillips enrolled her child at Alaka‘i in 2018 after struggling to find a solution for her first-grader’s anxiety. She said she was trying to figure out why her child freezes up or cries at school.
After learning about Alaka‘i from a recommended psychologist, she quickly invested her time as a teacher and as a parent. After enrolling her child, she said she noticed her child feeling more and more safe as the weeks went by, and claims the small class size had something to do with it.
Phillips said, “There are 12 kids to two adults in one class. One teacher and one ELA helper, so the ratio between adults and students is 1:6. What I love about this school is that we teach our students about character development, how to respect other peers, their teachers, and especially themselves.”
The school is still structuring programs like STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and ohana nights, and is currently fundraising for laptops, to fund sports like football and basketball, and for books for the library.
Stephanie Shinno, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0424 or email@example.com.