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Gathering Place
Cynthia Thielen

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Success stories counter
public school stereotype

With 24 schools designated for "restructuring" as part of the No Child Left Behind Act, the state of our public schools is receiving even more attention than usual (Star-Bulletin, March 4 and March 9). Hawaii's public school students are often stereotyped as being unable to succeed, and situations such as this exacerbate this misconception. But I have a different version of this scholastic story to share with you: a local success story that counters this undeserved stereotype.

The story begins in Kailua and stars the students, teachers and administration of Kalaheo High School, where there is a schoolwide belief that these kids can and do succeed.

This chapter of the story involves my annual Legislative Roadshow, an interactive program I conduct at Kailua elementary, middle and high schools. For this program, the students are asked to conduct research on current legislation and then participate with me in a mock committee hearing, where the students provide both written and oral testimony on a variety of issues. They also participate in a funding vote, deciding which of two vital school programs will receive funds.

Last Wednesday my staff and I brought this Roadshow to Kalaheo High School, where the students and teachers entered into this debate with enthusiasm, resourcefulness and a good deal of critical thinking.

We met with 150 ninth-graders and their teachers from four social studies classes to discuss issues such as genetically modified organisms, how to solve the bottle deposit redemption problems, graduated driver's licensing and elderly driver's license renewal, and the legalization of gambling. The students sunk their teeth into what are some very complex issues and came up with good insights into what we adults here at the Legislature continue to try to understand and perfect.

What I discovered, as I have in years past at a variety of schools, is that the students are articulate and impassioned, having spent much time and thought on preparing for and participating in this legislative exercise. Their high level of involvement and productivity is made possible and matched only by the dedication and hard work of their teachers and the support of the school administration. I am impressed time and again by the willingness and ability of both students and teachers to study, learn, question and explore.

We also met with Aikahi Elementary School third-graders on Wednesday morning, where the students eagerly discussed bills on improved nutrition and physical education in schools. The third-graders had a wonderful grasp of the governmental process and of why P.E. and healthy foods are important to them.

The teachers and administrators at these two schools truly help their students to achieve educational goals and to eliminate negative stereotypes.

So we should not feel discouraged by the news that some of our schools need advanced improvement. We must do what we can to support and encourage these schools. In doing so, we will continue to have success stories in Hawaii's public school system.

Cynthia Thielen is assistant minority floor leader in the state House of Representatives. She represents the 50th District (Kailua-Kaneohe Bay)

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