Konawaena Elementary School fifth grader Derek Prens checks for his classroom and teacher assignment Monday. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Konawaena Elementary School first-grader Kaeo Cross gets help organizing his desk and supplies from his mom, Kalani. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Konawaena Elementary School students arrived with excitement and jitters on the first day of school. While waiting for the first bell to ring, students gathered in hallways and the cafeteria, catching up with each other. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Konawaena Elementary School Principal Claire Yoshida welcomed students and parents back to school. More than 570 Kindergartners through fifth graders were projected to attend Konawaena Elementary this year, but only 560 were enrolled as of Monday morning. (Brad Ballesteros/Special to West Hawaii Today)
Six-year-old Keau Higashi sat on his mother’s lap, resting his head on her shoulder, hugging her tightly and wiping away tears.
Children sitting at the same table in Konawaena Elementary School’s cafeteria flashed friendly or brave, bewildered smiles when noticing the crying first-grader. It was Monday, the first day of school for many students statewide, and Keau wasn’t quite ready.
“Earlier, he said he was excited to go and ready. But when we got to the dropoff, he started crying,” Honaunau resident Ambrosia Len said of her youngest child. “I guess summer was too fun.”
Len promised Keau she would stay with him until the first bell rang and walk him to his class. While they waited, there was a hug, kiss, pat on the back and whispers that everything will be OK.
His brothers, Kamaehu and Kekama, 8 and 10, respectively, excitedly shared who their “fun” teachers were, revealed their “nice” grandma got them new shoes and clothes, and what they did to prepare for school. The boys filled their backpacks with school supplies the night before, went to bed early and got pep talks from their parents.
Besides doing well academically, Len said she and her husband always emphasize the importance of getting along with other people and being responsible. Like last year, the boys are supposed to do their homework during the A+ after-school program prior to playing sports. That way, after practice, the family will have more time for bonding.
Shortly before 7 a.m., Konawaena Elementary Principal Claire Yoshida was already greeting students in the hallways. There were excited smiles, some somber faces and a few tears. Some parents admitted to feeling both empty and full, proud, sad and even a little lost, while watching their children walk alone, and decidedly all grown up, into their classrooms.
“Starting the school year is a whole new beginning,” Yoshida said. “The first day of school, the slate is clean, and it’s absolutely exciting. Our vision is every child, by name and face, to graduation.”
More than 570 students were projected to attend the school this year, but only 560 were enrolled on Monday morning. That’s 40 fewer than last year, she said.
Yoshida was pleased to see numerous returning students carrying out the established ritual and routines without hesitation or reminders. She also spoke proudly of her 26 classroom teachers, six special education teachers, five resource personnel and other employees, describing them as “very collaborative, dedicated, supportive and caring.”
Not every student had a knot of worried excitement about the first day of school, because they already been in their classroom. Yoshida said several families took advantage of the school’s July 25 stop and drop event, which allowed families to drop off school supplies and talk story with their teachers.
Eight-year-old Trina Samuul got the scoops from her sister about third grade teacher Patti Kunitomo.
“She was in her class, and said Mrs. Kunitomo is nice and makes learning so fun,” Trina said. “I’m so excited to learn from her. I hope she likes math. It’s my favorite. I want to learn more than plus and minus.”
Fifth grader Tyson Acacio felt “pretty good” about the first day of school. He had an exciting summer of spearfishing with friends and family, and couldn’t wait to catch up his classmates. Besides doing all the normal preparations, such as getting school supplies, the 10-year-old said he looked forward to being “a role model” to younger students, including his 9-year-old sister, Jennie. He also wants to get better at science.
Michael White said his 7-year-old son, Jahvonetienne, has a love of learning and had been waiting all summer for school to begin. The third-grader has spent the past months reading books, including those from the Hardy Boys series, and wearing a watch to practice telling time. As a parent, White tries to keep his son engaged as an interested, curious learner by finding out about his passions and helping him excel whether at school or at home.
“It’s all about keeping them learning,” he said.