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High School: An Inside Story

Minutes before the bell for the day’s first class, kids lean against the gray cinder-block walls of the I Building, sit on the sidewalk next to the soda machine outside the Student Center, hang out on benches in Mene Square, named after the school’s mascot, the menehune.


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Student Chelsea Slater strolls through Mene Square, on her way to her next class. 


Monday 8 a.m.

I report to the administration office to start my week at Moanalua High School. It looks like your standard-issue, concrete campus—this one sprawling across 35 acres in Salt Lake. Darrel Galera—thin, intense, with a mustache—looks young for a principal, but he’s headed Moanalua for the past five years. He also taught social studies here in the ’80s, before stints as principal of ‘Aiea Elementary and King Intermediate.

Galera shows me around. He walks briskly, skirting students in the hallway, barely breaking his stride as he calls out greetings. “You being good?” he asks one. He gets an instant reply—“Yes, Mr. Galera.”


There’s not much of a dress code here, but there is an implicit uniform among students—T-shirts, jeans and shorts, slippers and sneakers. A lot of girls sport tank tops, which help on humid days, especially in classrooms without air conditioning.

Students wear their ID cards—strung onto lanyards around their necks, clipped onto shirtsleeves—or tuck them into their backpacks. They have to. It’s how security guards weed out the people who don’t belong on campus.

Galera stops suddenly. He’s looking at a chubby boy in a yellow T-shirt fiddling with his cell phone. Students can carry phones, but they have to turn them off once school starts.

The boy looks up. “I’m turning it off! I’m turning it off!” he insists.

Galera extends his hand, palm up. The boy sighs, gives him the phone. “OK, OK. You gotta do whatever you feel is right, Mr. Galera. Do I get detention?”

“Not this time,” Galera replies.

“OK, then, can I get my phone back? I promise I won’t turn it on again.”

“I know you won’t,” Galera says, “because it’ll be in my office till the end of the day.”


Galera introduces me to seniors Lorraine Pascual and Emily King, who share the same AP Calculus class, a subject I gladly dropped in high school.

Several students linger around teacher Dianne Minei-Kimoto’s desk, cramming before the morning’s test.

Other students are already in their seats, looking over their textbooks. Pascual is one of them. She woke up at 5:30 this morning, like she has every school day for the past four years, to catch the bus from Ewa Beach.

“The bus ride takes about two hours, but I’m used to it,” she says with a half-hearted laugh. “I just sleep on the bus.”

Like Pascual, about a fifth of Moanalua’s 2,000 students live outside of the district. Lots of parents want to send their kids here—between 300 and 400 students submit applications for geographic exceptions every year. The school can accept only about 100 of them.

Pascual came to Moanalua particularly for its media communications and technology learning center. Each year, fewer than 30 freshmen are selected for the center’s integration program, which offers core classes—science, language and social studies—through multimedia, including computers and video. Math, however, is still taught separately.

King wears red aloha-print shorts and a blue hooded sweatshirt. Her blond hair is wet, pinned up into a bun. She’d gone jogging with her father earlier this morning. “Not very far,” she tells me. “About four miles.”

King is one of the best cross-country runners in the state, as well as a competitive swimmer, water polo player and track star. She’s not all jock. She’s maintained a 4.0 grade point average since transferring from North Carolina. King’s father is in the military, just like the parents of about 20 percent of the school’s student body.

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Honolulu Magazine July 2020
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