Lab rats, unite!They're the proud, the few, they're Junior Rainbow graduates all. And the committee behind Saturday's all-school reunion commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first graduating class of the University Lab School -- later known as University High -- is hoping that many will return to the small Manoa campus to celebrate.
University Lab School alumniBy Gary C.W. Chun
from the past 50 years hold a
reunion to support their school
A year in planning, there's another school issue far more pressing that will be addressed after this weekend's reunion, and that's working to make sure the stream of graduating classes continues.
The University of Hawaii has supplied the buildings, maintenance and infrastructure of the school since 1943. The UH asked the school to become self-sufficient two years ago, and alumni and students' parents rallied to make up, in donations, the school's $700,000 funding shortfall last year.
Next year, there'll be no funding alloted to the school, and administrators are hoping donations will cover all its operating expenses, such as teacher salaries, equipment, supplies, phone bills and travel expenses.
"What the school does is still important to the college," said dean Randy Hitz. "It's brought in $4.1 million worth of multi-year grants to the state. Besides, it provides an excellent education for about 350 kids and is a great model for the schools. We certainly don't want to lose it and I'm optimistic about its future."
Hitz said that the College is supportive of the school applying for charter school status under the DOE for another potential source of funding. Meanwhile, a handful of graduates are starting a new alumni association to help. Lanning Lee, the committee's publicity coordinator and learning resource specialist with the UH's KOKUA Program, is its initial vice-president, working with association president and reunion committee coordinator Scott Yamashita, a realtor with Coldwell Banker Associates.
"We don't know if or when the money will be restored," said Lee. "There was a mandate given to the College of Education to address the current shortage of local teachers, so the money was taken from the lab school's budget."
Which is ironic, considering that the lab school, starting on the elementary level, was established as part of a teachers college to train student teachers. When the teachers college became the University's College of Education in 1959, students would help to develop curriculum programs and materials for the State's public schools. The school has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leader in curriuclum research and development.
All of which has made University High students jokingly call themselves "lab rats or guinea pigs," albeit in a positive way, said Yamashita. "We were always testing new curriculum and being tested constantly on standardized tests," he said.
"The purpose of the school has always been different from other local schools," he said, "although, for my family, it was a matter of convenience; my cousins went here and my mom went to school across the street."
Alumnus and Circuit Court Judge Steve Alm said that his parents, both professors, thought it was a safe, friendly place to meet students of diverse backgrounds. "There were kids from all over the place. The selection process and criteria is solely based on getting a representation or sampling of the current public school population. But then it all starts to feel kind of like family."
Yamashita added that students from different graduating classes often keep in contact with each other. Because both he and Alm are 1970s grads, "I know who 'Steenie' is," referring to Alm's nickname. Alm replied that "if I get a phone call at work asking for Steenie, it's probably someone from the school!"
"There have always been strong programs in the school, like the music program, when it was run by Mr. and Mrs. Alan Fetterman (currently retired and living in Florida but returning for the reunion)," Yamashita said.
Alm also remembers the school's athletic director during his time there. "Walt Kandelin was a retired Special Forces guy, an enthusiastic, barrel-chested guy who loved his job. He was always trying to discipline us by making us do pushups ..."
"And trying to get us off cigarettes!" chimed in Lee.
Graduating classes have always been small. "My class numbered 42," said Yamashita, "although there have been classes as large as 50. But, from the late '70s on, there's been a waiting list of those wanting to get into the school."
This will be the first time efforts have been made to bring all graduating classes back to the campus for one special reunion. School rooms will be designated "decade rooms" on Saturday, as classes from the '50s and on will meet and greet each other, even inviting members of the classes of 2000 and 2001 to co-mingle in the '90s room.
"In our efforts to get as many people as possible," Yamashita said, "we're finding out that word-of-mouth is working better than our mailers! But, for those who are still thinking of coming on Saturday, it's never too late to make reservations. They can even pay as late as the day of event at the door."
Notable alumni include people like Egan Inoue, an '84 grad who is a current Ultimate Fighting champion (building on his stellar athletic career as a former racquetball and jujitsu world champion); attorney John Komeiji; current UH Dean of Students Alan Yang; Locations owner Bill Chee; sisters Ali'i Stone Ching and Lani Stone, a former Mrs. Hawaii and Miss Hawaii respectively; State Sen. Norman Sakamoto; former Legislator and current BOE member Donna Ikeda; and one of the school's more celebrated alumnus, Salevaa Atisanoe.
Yamashita said the the former sumo wrestler known around the world as Konishiki is bringing 10 people to the reunion "and he's asking for XL and XXL-sized commemorative T-shirts!"
Lee's parents were happy "when the school accepted me after showing up for an open call. I started as a preschooler in fall of '58, one of a class of 38. I consider my class closer than family at times; it's not unusual for us to get together two, three, four times a year, whenever a classmate, who now lives out-of-state, comes back for a visit. Getting together for us is no problem."
Yamashita echoed Lee's feelings about his own classmates. "They've seen the good, the bad and ugly in you, sometimes I think moreso than your own brothers and sisters!
"The school always encouraged us to be individuals," he said. "The way that the curriculum was developed, we weren't educated in the standard way. And I've found that it's helped me when I later went into the business world, what with different management styles and 'thinking outside of the box.' It gave me a sense of resourcefulness."
Lee said he appreciated the liberal arts education he received throughout his schooling. "We always had art, language -- I remember taking Japanese when I was in the 9th grade -- music, where you took either band or choir.
"It was also cool to be located next to the university. Some of my fondest memories were of student teachers who would take some of us across the street to their own classes."
The upper classmen even participated during the protest years, in particular Moratorium Day in 1968. "Those from 9th grade up, we got out of class at 9:30 in the morning to walk across the street to demonstrate and participate in the Bachman Hall sit-in with people like Oliver Lee and John Witeck," in those heady times when even the University's ROTC building was burned down in protest.
Memories like those and other less dramatic will probably be recounted in the decade rooms, or during one of the dinner sittings under a makeshift tent with Vicki Holt Takamine's halau and Kilinahe performing or on the dance floor of the school's multi-purpose building, a combination cafeteria, volleyball/wrestling areas and theater. There's a lot of history associated with this rather nondescript school. And a lot of memories of growing up.
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