Thursday, May 27, 1999

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin

Students beautify
a roadside in tribute
to their families

Olomana kids celebrate a
greener Kahekili today

By Lori Tighe


Mani Prescott planted a Norfolk pine for his dad and a purple bougainvillea for his mom along Kahekili Highway -- because it was "personal."

"My mom and dad were splitting up, and I always thought it was my fault 'cause I got in trouble so much," said the 18-year-old. "I wanted to see them grow old together."

The embankment along Kahekili Highway in Kaneohe had been prone to vandals who stole its landscaping until youths such as Prescott adopted the area and planted "memory" trees.

The vandalism stopped, and for many youths, including Pres-cott, the trees started a healing process with their families.

The kids of Olomana School, who planted 200 trees and bushes dedicated to family members since January, were to show the results in a ceremony this morning.

Then planters and honorees were to return to the Kailua school today for a celebration that will last through tomorrow.

Olomana School, a public school for high-risk youth, was named last week as one of 70 National Service Learning Leader Schools. Olomana students adopted the stretch of Kahekili Highway as one of their projects in service learning, a growing trend in education to combine community service with academics.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
The hillside at Kahekili and Keaahala Road in Kaneohe has been
planted by students from Olomana School. They dedicated each tree
or bush to family members, with plaques identifying who each tree
has been planted for, top photo. Above, some of the students, with
teacher Ellen Schroeder, center front, and behind her,
Principal Estelle Wong.

"They recognize the trees will be there in perpetuity," said Ellen Schroeder, lead teacher of the school's service learning program and Hawaii's Teacher of the Year in 1997.

"One student said, 'Many years from now I can bring my grandkids and say I planted that one for my grandmother,' " Schroeder said.

The thought of digging, pruning and planting those trees on the side of a highway under the Hawaii sun initially didn't thrill the Olomana kids.

"We thought it was junk at first. Nobody wanted to work in the hot sun," said Kam Williams, 17. "But after, you feel good about doing something for someone else. Looking back, it wasn't really all that hard."

Williams planted a Norfolk pine for his grandma, Bessie Kauhi, 73, around January and has returned a dozen times to nurture the sapling.

"She's always been the best person throughout my whole life," he said. "She's a churchgoing woman, real down to earth, a Hawaiian. She taught me respect and discipline."

When Williams was 13, his mom couldn't afford rent, so the family moved in with his grandma in Waimanalo. They've lived together since. Kauhi plans to see her tree today.

The kids had to donate a few canned goods to the Hawaii Foodbank for each tree they dedicated to a loved one. The Milkin Family Foundation granted the school $3,500 for the project, and an additional $2,000 for today's and tomorrow's luau.

"Hopefully it's a feeling they carry up into society, that they, too, can give back," said Julius Lesner, executive vice president of the Milkin Family Foundation in Santa Monica, Calif.

"It's beyond my imagination what this has done for the students and staff," said Olomana principal Estelle Wong.

As for Prescott, who planted for his parents, he said they are still together.

"Me, my mom and dad, we're working on it. They tell me I'm the light of their life," he said. "They're my best friends in the whole world."

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