Sunday | April 19, 2015
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Internet Interaction: Waimea charter school offering blended online education

A Hawaiian-focused, bilingual public charter school in Waimea is using technology to expand and provide more educational options for students in grades six to 11.

Kanu o ka Aina New Century Public School is launching the Blended Learning Hui, which combines online instruction of core subjects and Hawaiian language with self-directed, place-based projects, face-to-face meetings and opportunities for social interaction. The free program is scheduled to begin Sept. 1, but the school will accept students until Oct. 1 or until all 20 spaces are filled. As of Friday morning, only two high school students had applied, said Kamaka Meringolo, the hui’s lead teacher.

There is a long waiting list for students trying to enroll at Kanu o ka Aina and inquiries happen daily, evidence of the school’s soaring popularity. This year, it will serve nearly 280 students in preschool to 12th grade. The hui is an attempt to help keep up with the press of students seeking an education at the school, said Allyson Tamura, co-administrator.

Kanu o ka Aina achieved annual yearly progress safe harbor status for the 2012-13 school year and has received six full years of accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. The school integrates culture, language, community and the natural environment into its curriculum. It also provides a foundation for achieving academic and future success, as well as being community contributors, Tamura said.

The Blended Learning Hui allows the school to share its unique educational experience and philosophy with a wider audience, Tamura said. “It’s an expansion to the traditional, classroom-based education currently offered,” she added.

“Guided on the side by the amazing people who work here,” students grow and develop, not only in the community, but also in knowing who they are, Meringolo said. He stressed the teachers strongly believe they’re “not the sage on the stage” and encourage their students to take control of their educational destinies.

The Blended Learning Hui is yet another way to empower students to chart their own paths and not be pigeonholed, Meringolo said. Participants will be responsible for creating individualized learning plans that incorporate the state’s rigorous graduation requirements, along with their interests and needs.

Meringolo stressed this program is not an easy alternative. “It requires discipline, a strong family commitment and a minimum of four to five hours per day of focused work,” he said.

Blended online education is “at the front burner of educational endeavors” and offers numerous benefits, including learning at the pace that’s right for the student, allowing self-expression and acquiring the technology-based skills needed in the 21st century. The hui can also accommodate different learning styles, personalities and scheduling needs, Meringolo said.

The program may be an ideal solution for home-schooled students during the more challenging high school years. It can provide resources that deepen their learning or boost their success in achieving future aspirations, Tamura said. For instance, students will have access to college and career readiness counseling, she added.

Hui participants will be issued a computer to use at home. Core subjects offered online through K12/Aventa Learning will include English, math, science and social studies. Hawaiian language classes will be offered through Niuolahiki from Aha Punana Leo. The projects will incorporate Hawaiian culture, history, traditions and the latest technology. Students can choose to collaborate on projects and pursue topics that allow them to connect with peers.

Students will be required to meet with a designated teacher two to three times per week. These meetings are to monitor the progress of courses and projects, provide additional assistance, allow students to talk story in Hawaiian and share what they’re learning, and provide an opportunity for informal conservations, Meringolo said.

To counter the social isolation some online students experience, hui participants will have access to the school library, technology lab, various learning centers and staff. They’re also welcome to participate in school events, sports, a cultural camp, hula drama and annual Makahiki celebration, Tamura said.

If this pilot program is successful, it will grow with more students and may also include those at the elementary level. The biggest challenge now is educating the public about the hui and getting students signed up, Tamura said.

Applications for the Blended Learning Hui can be picked up at the school’s office or downloaded from the program’s website, bit.ly/kanublendedlearning. For more information, call 887-1117 or email kanublendedlearning@kalo.org.