‘An innovative approach to school’: HHIS using grant funding to tackle truancy

  • Honokaa High & Intermediate School runs an Alternative Learning Center off campus, away from the traditional classroom environment on a working farm. Students are selected to participate in the program based on truancy, drug or alcohol violations, failing two or more classes or repeating grade levels. (COURTESY PHOTO/HHIS)

HONOKAA — Honokaa High &Intermediate School (HHIS) received $75,000 from the Hawaii Department of Education last month for an innovation grant they won in February.

The money will be used to refine specific classes in a pilot program launched at HHIS’s Alternative Learning Center (ALC) last year on the school’s 11-acre Pa’alaea farm, not far from the campus.

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Approximately 10 to 20 students will participate in the program this fall. They must have at least one of the following criteria: adjudicated, truancy, drug or alcohol violations, failed two or more classes or repeated grade levels.

A full-time teacher, part-time teacher and educational aide work with the students on academics, project-based learning, socio-emotional learning, Hawaiian values, culture and leadership.

“It is an innovative approach to school that began this past school year. It takes students off the main campus and away from the traditional classroom environment and into an actual working farm,” HHIS principal Rachelle Matsumura said. “Students have relevant duties and responsibilities that integrate innovative academic curriculum.”

Of the $75,000 grant money, $50,000 will be used to purchase a van.

“The van will be used for transportation for students on cultural field trips that bring curriculum alive,” Matsumura said, who wrote the grant application. “However, the van costs over $80,000, so the school will be fundraising to get more money to pay the full cost with a summer alumni concert on the football field Aug. 11.”

The remaining $25,000 will cover part-time teacher Jennifer Holani.

“She has been working at the school for three years now as a substitute teacher and part-time garden/farm teacher,” Matsumura said. “She works with many community partners to activate our farm and make it a larger part of the community.”

As stated in its goals and objectives, ALC was “created to help students with special needs successfully graduate from high school, and become positive and productive community contributors.” It aims to “increase student learning and achievement while simultaneously closing achievement gaps and increasing high school graduation rates.”

Science studies are taught in a tangible working laboratory, social studies focuses on economics, English/language arts are incorporated into the report writing and communication skills as well as technology, and math is widespread through utilization of measurements, equations and problem-solving.

Students are encouraged and empowered to voice their input, becoming active contributors to the educational program, learning experiences and school structure, as stated in the grant. Their input is applied to the curriculum as they come up with ideas, concepts and different approaches to solve real problems on a farm environment through critical thinking.

“Teachers work together to fulfill the needs of students from academics to socio-emotional health and culture and leadership,” Matsumura said. “ALC teachers collaborate with teachers on campus to ensure students are exposed to and engaging in grade-level content standards.”

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HHIS is among 13 schools statewide that won the innovation grants pegged between $10,000 and $250,000 each. Others included Kealakehe High; Palolo Elementary and Central Middle on Oahu; Waimea Canyon Middle, Kauai High on Kauai; Maui High; and Kualapuu Elementary New Century Charter School on Molokai.

The grants are supported by $1 million in federal and state funding.