Red Raiders take pride in their North Shore
Officials at Kahuku High and Intermediate School believe in the value of hard work, but a few years ago they decided to put their money where their mouth is.
That's when they opened enrollment into the gifted and talented program to all students.
If teens earn the grades to stay in the more rigorous classes, they can remain in the program.
More than 600 of the school's 1,850 students are enrolled in GT classes.
"It really motivates them," said vice principal Pauline Masaniai. "They can get kind of competitive with each other, but it's in a good way. Once the kids were involved in the academic rigor, it was easier to start things like the chess club or speech and debate."
School officials say the program seems to be working: the senior class this year earned more than $2 million in college scholarships.
Principal Lisa DeLong said the campus relies on the support and help of the community to keep the school academically strong and connected to the diversity of the North Shore.
"I think we have a good balance of academic skills and cultural understanding," DeLong said. "The students come out of here with humility and charm. They have this confidence. It's really a diverse community and there's a good melding."
Kahuku is one of the few schools in the state that has students from seventh through 12th grades on the same campus. DeLong said she likes having a larger age range because the older students can watch out for their younger brothers and sisters.
It also means that Kahuku has a lower ninth-grade dropout rate than many other schools. Because students are already familiar with the campus, know one another and know the teachers, there's no difficult transition to high school, DeLong said. "It establishes routines earlier," she said.
The school draws students from Kualoa to Waimea. Each year, seniors take a big class picture outside at a different beachside location. The photos hang in the administration building and show the classes at spots such as Pounders and Shark's Cove.
After the final bell rings, most students stay on campus until late afternoon for club meetings, sports or other activities. One in three students is in athletics. One in four participates in the school's music learning center.
The school is undergoing three construction projects: field improvements, classroom renovation and a technology upgrade.
Last year, students started an online shopping site that is a testament to the school's popularity in the community. Kahuku.org grossed more than $65,000 in the first several months it was opened, an astonishing feat for a school Web site.
Building on the school's back-to-back state football championships, the site has sold merchandise to people, from just down the street to as far away as Japan, Australia and England.
At the e-store, browsers can buy Kahuku High T-shirts, bumper stickers, baseball caps, back scratchers, water bottles and ceramic poi pounders made by Kahuku art students. The popular T-shirts go for $10 to $20 each.
The Web site also serves as a school and community information center where visitors can sign up for e-mail alerts, visit an archive of Kahuku newspaper articles and press releases or send a Spirit of Kahuku e-postcard.
• What are you most proud of?: DeLong is most proud that everyone at the school and in the community does their part to make the school great. "After we won the football championship this year one of our students came up with the saying, 'It takes a community to raise a Red Raider,' " she said.
• Best-kept secret: That alumni are so connected to the school. Thirty Kahuku teachers, about one-fifth of the faculty, graduated from Kahuku. Masaniai graduated from the school, did her student teaching there, and worked there as a history teacher. "I'm a Red Raider for life," Masaniai said. Also, many alumni work, coach and volunteer in the classrooms. The school has an endowment that was started by a family that attended the school in the 1940s. "People are very connected to this school," DeLong said.
• Everyone at school knows: Reggie Torres, affectionately called "Mr. Kahuku." Torres is an educational assistant, class adviser and coach known for pushing his students to achieve. A female kicker made 10 of 11 kicks during the season that she played on his junior varsity football team and his girls' wrestling team took this year's state championship.
• What we need: Kahuku students are asking for more tables and benches. The school would love to have groups adopt and care for spots on the sprawling campus.
• Special events: The school has a strong student activities program with annual cheer and song competitions, and 12 dances a year. For May Night, students take over the Polynesian Cultural Center after hours instead of doing the traditional daytime festivities. Students perform dances of all Polynesian islands, including the fire-knife dances, and have been known to try out moves from Japan and the Ukraine for the performance.
All Kahuku seniors are invited to make their own ceramic, decorated tile to leave behind on the campus; an artist comes each summer to create a mural with the individual artworks of the most recent graduating class.