The Learning Curve
Each private school has its own traditions, philosophies, teaching styles and more. How do you find the right match for your child?
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Pacific Buddhist Academy teacher Jay Toyofuku (top) and students Austin Yamaguchi (center) and Chelsea Toyama (bottom) after their taiko (Japanese drumming) lesson.
photo: Olivier Koning
Like Hanahauoli, MOMI opts to use a progress-report-and-conferences approach. The children participate in formal conferences twice a year and receive assessments to give parents an idea of how the child is performing. “We don’t put a big emphasis on [grades],” says Winans-Burns. “My daughter goes to Seabury, and was astounded by how devastated the [other students] were by the grades they got.”
For some schools, the structure of a report card is important, as it both conveys an expectation of quantifiable achievement and gives students a clear idea of where they stand academically. Iolani, for example, has stuck with the report card, issuing letter grades A through F in most classes for fifth grade and up, while younger students receive outstanding, satisfactory or unsatisfactory marks. La Pietra and St. Francis School, a Catholic institution, also issue letter grades.
Multiage classrooms are another cultural consideration, as they directly challenge the notion of a hierarchical system based on age. In a multiage classroom, children are grouped with either younger or older children according to age-appropriate readiness levels. For instance, first-graders are paired with second and perhaps even third-grade children. “There’s a recognition that kids develop along the same lines, though not at the same rate,” says Peters, who cites a variety of multiage benefits: Children can learn at their own readiness levels. Because students are with the same teacher for two years, they become comfortable with the routine. In their second year, they take on leadership roles, mentoring the younger kids.
For Kirk Caldwell, an attorney for Ashford & Wriston, and father of recent Hanahauoli graduate Maya, the mixed-age classes were beneficial for his shy daughter. “Maya was [previously] at a school where they had combined classes,” says Caldwell, “and, being an only child, she would have the experience of being with older and younger children. We were absolutely sold on that.”
And, as Winans-Burns points out, there are benefits that go beyond pedagogy: “When I watch [older children] in a context with the younger children, the [older children] are so giving, helpful and patient,” she says. “Our children tend to retain their innocence more.” Other schools, such as St. Francis, maintain the standard grade-level structure, but allow students who test high in certain subject matters to enroll in the more challenging classes. “They are put with their ability,” says headmaster Sister Joan of Arc Souza. “We try not to hold them back because they’re of a certain age.”
Ingrained in many schools’ cultures is the pedagogical belief that creating functioning members of the community begins with the schools. At Pacific Buddhist Academy, one of the top priorities is teaching students to not only become effective members of society, but to also nourish peace. “We tell the teachers to look at the curriculum and infuse it with Buddhist teachings,” says headmaster Pieper Toyama, “to structure the lesson so they can see in history and literature what are the values and obstacles to peace.” In history class, students may study the long-standing conflict between Pakistan and India, and the underlying causes. Or, they may examine interconnectedness in science class. “If you don’t understand that we’re all connected, you create obstacles for peace,” says Toyama.
Other schools teach children the value of community by encouraging, sometimes requiring, them to volunteer for charitable causes. At Hanahauoli, fourth through sixth graders can participate in an after-school program for students interested in issues such as cleaning up the Ala Wai Canal. At St. Francis School, the students are required to serve 100 hours of community service in order to graduate. The girls at La Pietra can choose from approximately 60 service projects a year, from collecting canned food to throwing a Christmas party for children from abusive homes. The goal is to foster selflessness and interconnectedness, and, says Souza, a lifelong desire to help others. “The idea is that they’ll get so involved with [volunteering], they’ll stay with it.”