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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At recess, Isaac gives me his own tour of the campus, showing me where various cliques tend to congregate. “That’s Black Street,” he says, pointing to the mainly black students sitting on a bench in one hallway in the G-Building. “That’s Filipino Street right next to it.”
As we walk through the hallways, Isaac daps fists with friends he spots, tips his chin to others. “That’s where all the whites stay,” he says, with a laugh, as we pass another group, “mostly military kids. Over there, get all the Japanese, Chinese, too. There’s where all the Micronesians stay—get plenty of them. Oh, and there’s all the Samoans.”
He stops at the I-Building, adjacent to the administration building, at a group of ethnically mixed students. “These are my friends.”
His two pals, both sophomores, give me a once-over. They’re dressed almost identically—black shirt, jeans, shades. One sports a short, spiky do; the other a long, surfer look.
“There are lots of people here I don’t like,” Spiky Hair says, “like the black guys. They act stupid. They act all nuts.”
Surfer Boy chimes in, “Yeah, just ’cause they’re from the Mainland, they think they’re all bad.”
“But aren’t there white guys and guys from other ethnic groups who come here from the Mainland?” I ask.
“Yeah, we don’t like them, too,” Spiky says. “We don’t like guys from the Mainland.”
Four security guards and 16 security cameras watch over the Moanalua campus. Galera had told me earlier the school works to prevent violence by making the campus feel like a community, so students develop respect for everyone here.
“From what I’ve heard, there aren’t many fights around here,” I tell them.
Spiky tells me I’m not looking in the right places.
“Get plenty fights, just off campus,” he says. “You know where Red Hill is? That’s where the fights are. Or meters.”
He’s talking about the parking meters near the school.
“Guys come down from other schools—Waianae, Radford, McKinley,” he says. “They like scrap, ’cause they’re stupid.
“You know why there’s no fights on campus? The administration calls the cops so fast if there’s a fight here. Cannot handle, that’s why. They’re so generic.”
Kids try to be cool with each other, mind their own business, for the most part, Isaac tells me. But not everyone gets along.
“There are these two geeky Asian boys, and everybody picks on them, but I’m cool with them,” Isaac says. “You know what they do on the weekends? They go to the shooting range and practice shooting guns. So I tell my friends, eh, leave them alone.”
Juniors Janice* and Alison* sit among another dozen or so black students in the I-Building hallways. Alison tries to finish her math work. Janice surreptitiously listens to music. Her iPod is tucked into the back of her jeans, its wires running through the back of her white sweatshirt, the hood concealing her earphones.
This is not the first high school either has attended. Both come from military families, used to moving around from state to state, wherever their parents happened to be stationed.
“There aren’t many black people at this school, so we try to stick together,” says Janice, who’s originally from the South. “I’m not racist. That’s how I grew up. It’s just my comfort zone. That’s who I want to hang around with, and I’m not gonna change just ’cause I moved to Hawaii.”
I ask them if they thought racism was a problem on campus.
Alison starts laughing and taps Janice’s arm. Janice takes off her earphones, “What did she say?”
“She asked if there’s racism here.”
“Oh, hell yeah, there’s racism here,” Janice says. “Like yesterday, we had an assembly, and this one boy said we were from South Africa. Hello! Just ’cause I’m black don’t mean I’m from Africa. There are a lot of white people in South Africa, so he didn’t know what he was talking about.”
Alison agrees, “Sometimes, people say things that they think are funny, and they don’t realize it’s not. They don’t know that it offends us.”
David Izumi looks exactly how you’d expect a woodshop teacher to look. Big, hulking, linebacker build—thick neck, wide torso, scruffy hair under a baseball cap. He sits on a stool, leaning one elbow on a worktable, watching his students file into class.
“Eh! You’re late,” Izumi calls out to a boy stepping into the classroom less than a minute after the bell rings. “Sorry,” the boy mumbles.
“You know this lady,” Izumi points to me, “she’s from the district superintendent’s office. She’s keeping track of who’s late for class and she’s calling their parents. Tell her what your name is so she can write it down.”
The boy looks at me skeptically, holding the doorknob to the classroom that adjoins the woodshop. Izumi persists, “Tell her your name.”
The boy gives it to me. Izumi starts spelling it out slowly as the boy bolts into the classroom. He shuts the door, and Izumi chuckles heartily.
Izumi also coaches the school’s award-winning robotics team. In June, his team will compete in the National Underwater Robotic Competition in Texas—an opportunity given to teams that take top spots not only in their states, but also in their regions.
Despite their success, Izumi struggles to get funding for the team. “Last year, I put out $2,000 of my own money,” he says. “This year, I put out $1,000. We put in a budget, but what we want and what we get are two different things.”
The lunch here isn’t half-bad: roast beef on a Kaiser roll, potato wedges, carrot sticks, canned peaches and two peanut butter cookies—all for $1. Another day brought chili dogs and fries.
But many students forgo cafeteria food, instead using their lunch recess to attend club meetings, finish up homework or hang out with their friends in the courtyard.