COURTESY OF KAHUKU HIGH SCHOOL
The annual Songfest has united Kahuku High students in song for 24 years. Here, members of the Class of 2008 pose for a picture at last year's Songfest.
Melody of memories
The Kahuku High Songfest celebrates music, school spirit and the teacher who started it all
For the last 24 years, generations of Kahuku students have come together once a year to participate in Songfest, a schoolwide event begun by social studies teacher Tuila'ai Hunkin-Vanisi.
Kahuku High School
56-490 Kamehameha Highway
Committees of students create musical medleys with original song lyrics for their respective grade levels. Participants from each grade meet weekly to learn their songs and put together a presentation that consists of synchronized motions and class pride.
Freshman Alayna Lesuma, who will be participating in Songfest for the first time, says she decided to do it because "it's fun, and it gets you more involved in school activities."
With themes like this year's "Disney Gone Local," several of Kahuku's high school students who come out for Songfest, like Lesuma, do it "for fun." But with Vanisi's recent passing, this year's Songfest calls for another look at the history behind the event.
In 1983, Vanisi started Songfest to balance the academic side of high school life with social activities, as well as to foster school unity. More than two decades later, the activity continues to fulfill its purpose as different grade levels practice together and then engage in a friendly competition with one another.
Sunday Mariteragi, a longtime teacher at Kahuku, said, "Songfest is like a sport that all students can learn and play."
Truly, Songfest attracts students from several different groups because it's not as much about talent as it is about dedication and school spirit.
In addition to school unity, Songfest also unites Kahuku's expansive community, from Haleiwa to Kaaawa. Shannon Ching, Kahuku's Student Body Government secretary, agrees.
"Songfest not only brings classes together, it also unites the community, providing an event for everyone to enjoy," Ching said.
Mariteragi, who helps manage student body activities, remembers Vanisi as someone who went out of her way to provide student activities and who was "always laughing and having fun. She had a personality all teachers could appreciate."
Lea Albert, district superintendent and former Kahuku principal, also remembers Vanisi well.
"She was a wonderful advocate for students," Albert wrote.
This year's Songfest participants symbolize the hard work of a teacher, who, as Mariteragi put it, was "the heart of many of Kahuku High and Intermediate's activities."
On Feb. 28, students will perform their best to, as Ching put it, "bring back the pride and spirit that Songfest originally started with. ... Mrs. Vanisi began a tradition that is still going strong, and we would like to honor her."
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Indian, Hawaii teachers swap schools, nations
Chemistry instructors cross the world to teach and wind up learning of themselves
Imagine being more than 8,000 miles away from your home, family and loved ones in a world completely different from your own. Kahuku chemistry teacher Anne Zellinger went to New Delhi, India, to teach 11th grade at Kendriya Vidyalaya Government School as part of the Fulbright teacher exchange program. In her place, Surahbi Bhatnagar came here from India to teach chemistry.
In India there is no compulsory education, and anyone who wants to go to school has to pay to go to a private institution. Because of this, most children in India do not attend school.
Consequently, Bhatnagar noted, "Students in Hawaii have much more freedom. Students can choose if they want to study or will do their homework. In India students are compelled to work because they all are lucky that they are even in school."
The school day in India is broken up into six periods, each 35 minutes in length. The teachers travel from class to class, and the students stay in one classroom. Although Bhatnagar and Zellinger were teaching the same grade level, they both had to change their curricula because the students at Kahuku and in India were at different skill levels. In India there is a strong emphasis on the math and sciences, whereas in the United States there is no emphasis on any one subject and well-rounded students are preferred.
Students in India take a chemistry class every year, as opposed to just one year as in the United States.
"In India we have a raised standard for science knowledge," Bhatnagar said. The chemistry class she teaches in India would compare to an AP chemistry course here.
COURTESY OF KAHUKU HIGH SCHOOL
Kahuku teacher Anne Zellinger is teaching in New Delhi, India, as part of the Fulbright teacher exchange program.
Bhatnagar enjoys the freedom teachers have in the United States to choose and develop their own curriculum: "In India there is a set curriculum of things we must teach every day. There are very little hands-on activities and not nearly as many labs.
"Our goal is to get students to pass the national exams," Bhatnagar said. "Sometimes we have to rush our students when they might not understand the subject. But we have to keep moving along because there is no flexibility. I really like that there is much more interaction here."
Zellinger noted, "The national exams are so important for the students to pass that plagiarism is widespread and commonly accepted among students."
Zellinger was immersed in a world completely different from what we know and are used to: She had to adapt to bartering, getting around on busy, chaotic streets, different public health standards and learning how to teach Indian students.
Bhatnagar felt lonely in Hawaii; she was used to being constantly surrounded by people, and her home was full of in-laws.
"I miss the crowds the most," Bhatnagar said. "In India the streets are packed and there are lots of people everywhere, but here I am very lonely. I didn't expect that."
Zellinger explained some of the cultural differences between India and Hawaii: "Religion is practiced daily as opposed to just on Sundays. Extended families in India live together. In India, I also had a sense that people were more important than time.
"I hope that I have been a good ambassador for the U.S. and lifted some veils of obscurity that may have existed," Zellinger said. "I am very appreciative for the differences we have, because it allows me to see myself more clearly. This trip was a very personal adventure and extremely rich."
Their exchange has helped to bridge the cultural gap between India and America. It was not only enriching for Bhatnagar and Zellinger, but also for the students in Kahuku and in India. Because of their brave exchange, we have broken stereotypes and have a better understanding of the other's culture and education.
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"If you could live in any time period, what would it be and why?"
"I would want to live in the '50s because it seems like a romantic time period, and I like the way they danced."
"I would want to live in the '50s because I like the clothes and poodle skirts."
"I would want to live in the '30s because I like the hairstyles."
"I would live during the 1800s because that was a time period when America was just created and experimenting with Western expansion."
"I would want to live 50 years ago to experience how life was in the islands of Tonga."
"I'd want to live in the future when we can have our licenses at 12 years old and we'll be driving around in our hover-cars to school."