Make big isle program
a model for other schools


A Big Island high school has developed a program for engaging students in civic activities and social issues.

RECOGNIZING public classrooms as the crucibles of democracy, a Big Island high school has developed an innovative program of developing the attributes of citizenship among all its students. The school's interactive program immersing students in civic activities and social issues has drawn national attention and should serve as a model for other public schools in Hawaii.

The program at Kealakehe High School north of Kailua-Kona arose from brainstorming sessions of the school's staff led by Principal Wilfred Murakami. Essentially, it consists of a 20-minute segment of the day-opening homeroom classes, involving every teacher and student in the school. They discuss current events and problems ranging from drugs and cheating in school to their purpose in life. They vote on school issues and volunteer in the community.

Civics classes have been sharply cut back or even eliminated in many school systems across the country. The requirement has been reduced in Hawaii high schools to a one-semester, ninth-grade course in government, a course still required at Kealakehe.

Social studies have taken a blow by the federal No Child Left Behind law, which tests public school students on virtually every subject except civics and history; as a general rule, if it's not tested, it's not taught. If the law is not changed, Richard M. Theisen, former president of the National Council for the Social Studies, said last fall, "it will have done more to eliminate history and/or social studies than any other event, person or movement."

Theisen disagreed with many critics of social studies instruction that its teachers generally are elitist liberals. However, he agreed that most textbooks are "bland and uninspiring," which is partly why the Kealakehe program is so effective.

"The traditional method of teachers with a lecture and reading the book has a limited impact," education consultant John Minkler of Fresno, Calif., told the Star-Bulletin's Susan Essoyan. "The more students are engaged in the process of solving real problems in their school and community, the more they'll understand the challenges of citizenship."

Minkler, co-chairman of the social studies council's Task Force on Revitalizing Civic Education, visited the Kealakehe campus twice this year and called the program "a model of civic education that I've shared with schools across the nation."

Some faculty members "feel put upon by this extra task" but others have embraced the program, said teacher Alan Vogt. Principal Murakami cites the program as a factor in Kealakehe's rate of student suspensions being lowest among the Big Island's six regular public high schools.

"Citizenship is a class that helps you in your everyday life to make good choices," Kealakehe senior Christina Miyamoto explained. "Schools already assume that you know how to make good choices, but we don't."



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