DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Radford High has multiple generations that attend the school, such as, from left, Summer Slayter, who graduated in 2000 and teaches at Radford, and her father, Dale, who graduated in 1975. There are also Kaeli Patton, 15, her mother, Elizabeth, and brother Kerry, 16. Jaelyn Mison, 16, is the school's student body president, and her mother, Joycelyn, who graduated from Radford in 1991, is transition coordinator at Makalapa Elementary School next door.
Radford High's population of military students means constant change but offers teachers a learning experience
STORY SUMMARY »
It takes not just a village, but an educational facility to raise a child. Schools become a "third family" for most children, after their immediate relatives and their neighbors, and the intense experience of high school resonates throughout one's life. "Where you grad?" is the most common get-to-know-you piece of small talk in the islands.
So it's not uncommon for aunties and uncles and other assorted relatives to pass through the same neighborhood school, providing a sense of continuity and community. That is, except for one school: Adm. Arthur W. Radford High School on Salt Lake Boulevard. Because of the high number of military dependents in the school, the student body is constantly churned.
The school is named for the first naval officer appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who retired from the Eisenhower administration in 1957, the year his namesake high school opened. The school celebrates its 50th anniversary this fall.
COURTESY TIME MAGAZINE
Radford High School was named after Adm. Arthur W. Radford, the first naval officer appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The population is dependent on location. Radford High bumps up against the sprawling Aliamanu Military Reservation, and it's within walking distance of Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Force Base. Before Moanalua High School was built, Radford also hosted kids from Fort Shafter. Although the percentage was much higher in the past, about two-thirds of Radford's students are still in military families. Other schools, such as Kalaheo and Mililani, also have military students, but not in these numbers -- about one-third of the student body changes every year.
"You don't see the grads coming back and living in the community the way you do at other schools," mused Principal Robert Stevens. He has been at Radford more than three decades, starting there in 1970 as a physical education teacher.
"What's special about the place is that I learn from the kids. Military kids often have a real sense of history because they've been places. Hawaii kids have read about the Liberty Bell; military kids have actually seen the Liberty Bell. This makes discussions in class so rich."
The student population has dropped since 1970, when it numbered 3,300; today, 1,250 are in attendance. "The military has downsized; four Samoan churches on military property have moved away -- the population is changing," Stevens said.
According to a study conducted by sociologist Rudi Williams, military dependents tend to score higher on tests, are less likely to become delinquents, have a higher median IQ and are much more likely to achieve a college degree than their civilian counterparts.
The downside? Constant reintroduction to new social groups and communities forces the military dependent to assimilate quickly. Achieving a comfort zone of community life is impossible.
Radford High's legendary faculty couple, football coach John Velasco and counselor Barbara Velasco, recognized this in the 1960s, Stevens said. "Mr. V created instant community ties with sports, and Mrs. V made everyone welcome with activities. That's why our sports and dances are remembered with affection by our alumni."
FULL STORY »
Given the high turnover rate -- at least one-third of the student body every year -- the chances of a particular student attending Radford High School for four years are low. But there are still families with multigenerational ties to the 50-year-old school. We found a few for whom the school is a family affair, gathered around a table at the principal's office:
» Jaelyn Mison, class of 2008 and current Radford student body president, whose mother, Joycelyn, class of 1991, is an administrator at Makalapa Elementary School, right next door.
» Kaeli and Kerry Patton, class of 2010, whose mother, Elizabeth, class of 1981, is a physical education teacher at the school.
» Summer Slayter, class of 2000, Radford math teacher and senior class adviser, whose father, Dale, class of 1975, works for a local airline.
"It's not that weird" having Mom nearby, said Jaelyn, looking around. "Just watch what you're doing and don't get sent to the principal's office. But here we are."
"I love being nearby," her mother said. "Not a problem for me! I went to Radford and I'm doing great. School is good. My other two boys are at Makalapa with me."
"I know I'd better stay on track and get good grades ..." started Kaeli.
"... and not get into any trouble, because Mom's right here," finished Kerry. "We get to say hi to her in the hallways."
It's both a pleasure and a convenience having your kids in the same school, Elizabeth Patton said.
"Other teachers wonder what it's like, but it's mostly enjoyable. My kids also know they have to behave themselves because the other teachers will talk to me. Also, if something comes up and the kids need to talk to me, I don't have to wait until 6 p.m. to see them."
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Radford High School has multiple generations that attend the school, such as, from left, the school's student body president, Jaelyn Mison, 16, and her mother, Joycelyn, who graduated in 1991 and is the transition coordinator at Makalapa Elementary School, which is located next door to Radford. School PE teacher Elizabeth Patton, a 1981 graduate, has two children attending Radford: Kerry, 16, and Kaeli, 15. And Dale Slayter graduated in 1975 while his daughter, Summer, is a 2000 graduate. Summer now teaches at Radford.
Like many Radford families, the Pattons and Misons live across Salt Lake Boulevard in the Foster Village housing complex. Summer lives in a nearby apartment.
"When I was teaching at Roosevelt High School, there were a lot of kids with parents and grandparents in the school and the surrounding community," Summer said. "But Radford, because there's such a high turnover, it's harder to find a parent-child connection with the school."
"Considering that, there are a surprising amount of alumni who come back here to teach," Elizabeth said.
"Kinda scary!" laughed Summer.
"Well, we know what they're going through, because we've been there. I mean, we've been here," said Elizabeth.
Dale Slayter counts his Radford years as the best times of his life. "The high school years are like that for everyone. I really liked the student body and PE teachers like Mr. (Jim) Alegre and Mr. (Robert) Frey. There was a lot of military then, and the class was twice as big. A lot of talent to draw on for sporting events. I particularly liked the victory dances!"
And then he named a long honor roll of Radford athletes who have gone on to bigger games. Other notable graduates include entertainer Bette Midler, naval commander Rick Hoffman and environmental lawyer J.T. Morgan.
"We tell the kids about the old days," Joycelyn said. "Like having to catch tadpoles for class in the biology pond ..."
"So gross," Elizabeth said. "We'd fall in. Well, someone would fall in. Inevitably."
"Biology pond?" wondered Kerry and Kaeli together.
"Uh, fall?" Jaelyn said. "As in ... fall? In?"
"That circle on the ground up between the buildings? That used to be a big mucky pond where we'd grow tadpoles and frogs for biology," shuddered Elizabeth. "Horrible."
"Oh, that was real?" Jaelyn said. "I'd heard there was a pond on campus somewhere."
Kerry and Kaeli exchanged glances. The legend was true!
Informed that Radford High School was once colored pink -- with paint stocks apparently liberated from Tripler hospital -- everyone around the table looked appalled.
"Well," said Summer, tentatively, "I like the murals on the hallways."
"I like the black-and-white walls," Elizabeth declared. "They're the Radford High school colors, after all."
They all nodded in agreement. One big extended family.