After a summer of Kilauea disruption, students excited to return to Volcano school

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald First grader Milo Cole, 6, checks his backpack for his lunch Monday on his first day of school at Volcano School of Arts and Sciences in Volcano.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Principal Kalima Kinney greets students and parents during their morning “Piko” Monday on their first day of school at Volcano School of Arts and Sciences in Volcano.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald First grader Riley Everett, 6, listens to her teacher with her classmates Monday on their first day of school at Volcano School of Arts and Sciences in Volcano.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Kindergartner Zetta Crosson, 5, talks with a new friend Monday on their first day of school at Volcano School of Arts and Sciences in Volcano.

  • Second grade teacher Jane Wells gathers her students after their morning “Piko” Monday on the first day of school at Volcano School of Arts and Sciences. (Hollyn Johnson/Tribune-Herald)

HILO — “Hi! Good morning!”

Teachers and administrators at the Volcano School of Arts &Sciences greeted eager and excited students early Monday morning.


The new year is now underway for the Hawaiian-focus charter school located in Volcano, and it’s business as usual — for the most part — in the wake of volcanic activity from Kilauea that began as the 2017-18 school year was winding down.

Just after 8 a.m., children and teachers gathered for its piko wehena, an opening and welcoming ceremony, where a chorus of tiny voices rose from the front of the verdant campus before the students headed to their classrooms.

“At the end of the last school year, the volcano was kind of a big question,” fifth-grade teacher Rebecca Hatch said. “How long it would keep going, and how would it affect our student population? … But we planned on having school as normal.”

But there are changes to contend with this year as a result of eruption activity that destroyed hundreds of homes in lower Puna and forced nearby Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to close.

“I’m sad because so much of our school relied on the national park,” Hatch said. “We would do field trips, cultural activities, we would do invasive plant removal and native plant planting. So much of what we do as a school is tied to the national park. We could even walk to the park from our school. Our school is about place-based learning, and learning through volcano’s natural, cultural resources, and our biggest natural resource is closed. I bet it’s going to take a while before it reopens.”

She hopes the park opens as soon as possible to resume usual school activities, but in the interim, Hatch said they’re trying to find other places to go.

They can talk to rangers at the Volcano Art Center and make trips to the Mokupapapa Discovery Center in Hilo and to the park’s Kahuku Unit, “but that’s a drive. So we’re just going to have to find alternatives.”

“Exciting. Exciting,” parent Melissa Fletcher-Crosson said of the new school year. “We’re all excited — me, my husband, tutu … tutu is crying already.”

Her daughter, Zetta Crosson, 5, was starting her first day of kindergarten.

She’s not hesitant to send Zetta to school in the midst of eruption activity that’s continuing, albeit slowing in recent days.

“I think this is a good bunch of people,” Fletcher-Crosson said. “They’ve been doing this for along time, and they’ve pretty well got their act together.”

Fletcher-Crosson said the family came for a recent meet-and-greet at the school, where Zetta met a few of the people she will be going to school with and her new teacher.

“We were trying very hard to get in here, but it’s a lottery system,” she said.

Zetta, Fletcher-Crosson said, also was excited to head to school.

“It’s going to be great getting some other people in there teaching her things that we haven’t thought of in ways we haven’t thought of doing.”

Colleen Cole, whose children Milo, 6, and Finn, 10, are students, was another parent on campus Monday morning.

“We love this school,and we live just a few miles away,” Cole said. “We feel very safe. I don’t have any concerns. And the kids learn so much about the dynamic landscape here.”

For her, it’s part of the package, “and the school has gone to all these lengths to ensure that (students) are safe.”

A bit of normalcy will be nice, Cole said, adding that there was a “a lot of upheaval” at the end of the last school year.

Anne Farahi, said her daughter, Riley Everett, 6, was excited about coming back to school, too.

“She’s been talking about it for weeks,” Farahi said. “Yeah, I think the normalcy about going back to school is good for the kids. The last year ended with a big, giant steam plume.”

The school has done a good job about communicating plans, Farahi said.

“If anything were to happen, we know exactly where they would be.”

Fourth-graders Fujimi Yabuki, 10, and Kekoa Costales, 9, were excited to be back. They have attended VSAS since kindergarten.

While Kekoa said earthquakes experienced this summer were scary, he and Fujimi weren’t nervous about returning to school.

“They serve us good lunch, and we have two recesses a day,” Kekoa said, when asked what he liked about the school. “So it’s not just work, work, work, food, work, work, work.”

Fujimi said each day there’s always a different surprise.

Principal Kalima Kinney said she feels good returning to school.

“I feel really good about being back and the first day of school,” she said. “I feel that we’re knowledgeable and prepared to respond to our environment, and we’re ready and excited.”

Kinney said she was pleased after attending a recent community meeting to discuss Highway 11 and bypass options should that roadway become impassable.

“We don’t feel like we’re going to have any issue with the bus being able to make its normal routes,” she said.

The eruption also has had an impact on enrollment, said Kinney, “but perhaps not as much as it could have.”

Some families have left, but Kinney said the school also had new families who wanted to enroll.

But the overall enrollment “did take a hit,” she said. There are about 15 fewer students enrolled in the fifth and sixth grades combined.

As of Thursday, the student body totaled 201, but that count is changing daily, said Kinney.

“We’re not just open, we’re thriving on the slopes of Kilauea, and we encourage anyone to come and have a visit. … As long as there’s children here, we’ll have a school here.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at

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