Issue 27: School Spirit

Cover images by Jonathon Canlas and Ijfke Ridgley.

The next time your school ranks at the bottom of someone else’s list, kick the dirt off your shoes, be they garden boots or cleats, and as they say at Lahainaluna High School, “kūlia i ka nu‘u,” or, “strive to reach the summit.”

Editor’s Letter: I was always good at school. In fourth grade, I was reading at an eighth grade level; in eighth, I was reading at a twelfth grade level. I finished high school at Hawaii Baptist Academy with a 3.8 grade-point average, and went on to graduate magna cum laude from Pepperdine University with a degree in journalism.

When I say I was “good at school,” it isn’t to say that I was the smartest, or that I studied harder than anyone else. Mostly, I was lucky enough to be gifted in the areas that many times determine final grades: essay exams, final papers, showing work on algebra tests. I could write my way out of anything—and back it up with at least three paragraphs of supporting evidence. My first year in college, when I was attending the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, I skipped the entire semester of macroeconomics, only showing up on the last day to take the final, certain I was going to fail the class. I walked out of there with a B+.

For others I know, school didn’t come so easily. I have a friend who dropped out of high school, and when he later took the GED, he scored third highest in the nation. Another quit high school in his fifth year (that’s right, fifth), and today is the president of a successful storage company with 28 locations statewide. A classmate at Hawaii Baptist got expelled for failing grades during her sophomore year; recently, we celebrated with her in Colorado at Regis University, where she received a doctorate in pharmacy. It would seem we all managed to become master manipulators of the system, finding success either in school or after, regardless of our performances. Or, perhaps, the system with which our society evaluates success is broken.

Google any of the cringe-worthy moments in Hawai‘i’s education history in the last two decades—Furlough Fridays, teacher strikes, near-bottom proficiency scores—and the headlines at outlets from the Washington Post to The New York Times stack like playing cards. These accounts, however, don’t tell the whole story. For instance, did you know that from 2005 to 2015, Hawai‘i’s education system rose from being ranked in the bottom 50 to 26th place, seeing the second largest gains overall in math and English proficiency scores in the nation? Did you hear about the hundreds of valedictorians—a title now bestowed on all graduates who earned a 4.0 GPA or above all four years of high school and took an honors class—who graduated this year, including 56 from Mililani High School, 42 from Kalani High School, 18 from Campbell High School, and 19 from Wai‘anae High School? Given the fact that only a handful of news outlets reported on it, chances are you did not.

When looking at Hawai‘i’s education system, it’s all too easy to get caught up in headlines, proficiency scores, and national rankings, especially when those are the criteria used to gauge achievement. After all, how does one give a grade to a Big Island charter school that houses a piggery as a way to teach kids about animal husbandry and responsible agricultural practices? Or decide what rank a college-bound graduate in hopes of becoming a music teacher—one who continues helping with band practice despite the arrival of summer—deserves? Do you pass or fail a community where kids may not be making the grade but are getting full-ride scholarships to universities around the country to play football?

The next time your school ranks at the bottom of someone else’s list, kick the dirt off your shoes, be they garden boots or cleats, and as they say at Lahainaluna High School, “kūlia i ka nu‘u,” or, “strive to reach the summit.”

With aloha,
Lisa Yamada

Click here to purchase a past issue of Flux.

Featured Stories:

Hawaiʻi Graduation Leis
Image courtesy of Mitchell Fong

Lei Away
The prevalent, profligate ritual of gifting grads with lei is a beloved island tradition.

Image by Jonas Maon

March of the Menehune
Why Moanalua High School’s music program is one of the winningest.

Image by Ijfke Ridgley

A School Upon a Hill
At the oldest high school west of the Mississippi, every day is steeped in history.

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Image by Jonathan Canlas

Against The Wind
O’ahu’s northern community of Lāʻie produces some of the best high school football players in the game.

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Image by Brandon Smith

Floating Classrooms
Po‘okela Academy is helping students carve out pathways to success.

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