Grant to aid experience-based learning


POSTED: Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The progressive teaching methods of Hanahau'oli School in Makiki got some major positive reinforcement yesterday in a $1 million grant from the Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation.

The grant will support Hanahau'oli's new Professional Development Center program, which promotes the 90-year-old independent school's educational emphasis on experienced-based learning.

Headmaster Robert G. Peters started the training program informally some 20 years ago for public and private school teachers.

The money will allow the school to establish a formal program, with meeting rooms in the school's new administration building, with the aim of forming community partnerships and developing methods to improve education for all children, Peters said.

The school offers preschool-through-grade 6 curriculum to some 206 students, organized into multiage classrooms to allow them to learn at individual levels. Within a classroom students are divided into smaller groups according to ability, not age, and benefit from relationships developed under the same teachers for two years, Peters said.

The school's emphasis reflects research that shows that children learn best by working on a project that exposes them to direct experiences—field trips and nature hikes, for example—and incorporates reading, math and other basic subjects. Instead of just absorbing big chunks of information, they have to apply what they have learned, which encourages them to think critically and creatively, Peters said.

One beneficiary of the program is Sister Margaret Antone Milho, assistant principal in charge of the elementary grades of Saint Francis School, who said she welcomed the introduction to Hanahau'oli's nontraditional teaching methods three years ago. Hanahau'oli emphasizes teaching “;the whole person, not just the academic part”; of the student, she said.

With this approach, students can do more advanced work when they are ready, not according to their ages, she explained. This gives slower learners more time to master a subject without the stigma of falling behind a grade level, and faster learners the opportunity to learn more challenging material without waiting until they reach the next grade level, Milho said.

Saint Francis has since incorporated the multiage-level classroom approach for kinder- gartners and first-graders, with pleased reactions from parents and students, she said. Next year it will combine second- and third-graders, she added.