Program hopes to motivate freshmen to excel


POSTED: Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hawaii's public schools announced a new Step Up diploma initiative yesterday to encourage freshmen in the Class of 2013 to take more rigorous classes to better prepare them for college and the work force.

This year's high school freshmen will be able to graduate with a voluntary “;Step Up”; diploma if they maintain a “;B”; average and complete additional academic requirements, including a senior project research paper. The new diploma will qualify the graduating seniors for scholarships and admission to local colleges, and give graduates some job application benefits.

But the new initiative comes as funds are being cut to support more advanced placement classes in the public schools and as schools are having to make tough decisions about providing more classes for college-bound students while trying to meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

“;It is critical for our state to step up educational resources for our children,”; said Board of Education Chairman Garrett Toguchi. “;Raising the bar by itself does not improve student learning.”;

Eighteen freshmen from Waialua High School were at yesterday's news conference announcing the Step Up diploma initiative. The students are part of the AVID, or Advancement Via Individual Determination college-prep program.

Freshman Joshua Labajo said he is already taking geometry and honors English and history classes in preparation for college, where he hopes to major in electrical engineering.

He's not sure what classes he'll take or what will be available when he's a senior.

Zachary Staszkow, the registrar at Waialua High, said a more rigorous academic curriculum is a priority for the administration. The school offers five advanced placement classes for college credit as well as honors classes, including English, math and social studies.

But Staszkow said Waialua did not meet the minimum standards under the No Child Left Behind law this year and has to balance the mandate to improve test scores for all students with the need to provide opportunities for students to Step Up.

“;That's the tough decision,”; he said.

Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said budget cuts will affect the public schools' ability to provide more academically challenging courses. But she said individual schools have control of their budgets and can make it a priority.

The Department of Education says $500,000 appropriated to support advanced placement classes in public schools, including training for teachers, test fee waivers for low-income students and an advanced placement summer institute, was cut from this year's budget.

Hamamoto said the department is looking for federal funds, foundation grants and donations from private businesses to support the Step Up degree initiative.

Toguchi said if more students sign up for Step Up classes, it will be easier for schools to offer more academically challenging courses.

The department and the Hawaii P-20 Partnership for Education have set a goal of enrolling 75 percent of public school freshmen in the tougher degree program and of getting 100 local businesses and community organizations as supporters by the end of the year.





        To earn the Step Up diploma, public school students must complete:

        » four credits of math, including algebra I, geometry and algebra II (or its equivalent);

        » three credits of science, including two credits of biology, chemistry or physics;

        » five credits of expository writing (or its equivalent).

        » They must also meet the standard of an algebra II final exam and complete a senior project.

Graduates who complete the Step Up diploma program are eligible for scholarships, admission to local colleges and universities and some job application benefits.