Aloha Returns To Molokai High
Students rekindle friendships after schoolyard brawl.
By Léo Azambuja
Aloha might be the Friendly Isle’s biggest asset. But when it comes down to high-school brawls, aloha can be easily forgotten. On Friday, Sept. 21, a fight at Molokai High School (MHS) erupted into a campus-wide brawl, involving at least 20 students. However, turning the tide on the negative aspects of the clash, students came together to devise positive solutions to bring aloha back to the school.
The fight started at the cafeteria, according to student witnesses, and dragged on to the basketball court. At least half of the school’s students witnessed the fight.
Some students said classmates jumped in to try to break the fight. From a distance, it looked like a major riot, but they said around 20 students, including girls, were directly involved in the fight.
The school’s principal, Linda Puleloa, said it was a rather large fight, involving 15-20 students.
William K. Umi, parent of one of the youth involved, said MHS students usually segregate themselves in two major groups, those who live in the East End and those who live in the West End.
“We needed to realize that we are one school,” Puleloa said. “That kind of stuff has to stop.”
“It’s important that we address these problems rather than dismiss them,” said Sergeant Eugene Santiago, from the Molokai Police Department.
Puleloa called in parents the following Monday to discuss possible ways to end the violence. She said that when she became vice-principal in 1997 there were a lot more fights at the school, but that it was still unacceptable for brawls to happen on campus.
“We are a small community,” Santiago said. “We need to work out our differences.”
A group of parents met with Puleloa, Santiago and Officer Jamie Winfrey, who is permanently stationed at the school. In a separate room, Kekama Helm, a youth leader from Queen Liliuokalani Children’s Center, and MHS teacher Cora Schnakenberg met with the students.
Puleloa said the boys involved in the fight realized that there are other ways to solve problems. Many of the fights start with malicious rumors instigated by third parties, and it was exactly what happened before this large brawl. The students decided to talk to the administration the next time those rumors go around, stopping the problem at its roots.
Umi said the students also suggested painting a mural to express friendship and unity on the island.
But the best was yet to come. “The boys took the initiative and asked me if they could have an assembly,” Puleloa said.
In front of almost 400 of his classmates, one student began the assembly reciting a poem called “No Fight the Hawaiians.” The poem is an exchange between two guys, in which one of them asks the other not to fight Hawaiians, citing the social hardships that Hawaiians go through.
Following the poem, the student apologized to a classmate he had fought with. His classmate then came forward and they shook hands.
“One by one, the students called each other down, and shook hands and said sorry in front of everybody,” Puleloa said.
“By the time they called each other down, there were about 25 students there,” Umi said.
Puleloa was amazed by the humbleness of the students. She said that apologizing in front of a huge crowd is probably one of the hardest things a teenager could do. “Our kids are awesome,” she said.
The students who sat at the bleachers also received praise from Puleloa. “The kids in the audience were also thoroughly incredible,” she said. Every time one of the students would finish apologizing, the audience would erupt in cheers.
Closing the assembly, everyone sang the school’s Alma Matter and went on with their business.
“I’m very pleased with the outcome,” Santiago said. “I want to commend the school, the parents, and the children for their desire to move forward”
Puleloa said teachers should not assume that the students already know right from wrong. She said the fight illustrates that, and that teachers and parents should look at the community as a whole.
“Every child is everyone’s child,” Puleloa said. “It takes a village to raise a child.”
Some students said that because of the assembly, the division between East and West inside the school is finally over.
In the end, Puleloa said that although a fight is always a negative thing, students were able to turn the situation around and come up with something positive.
“This is a good example of what our community is all about,” Santiago said.
Despite the positive outcome, there are still issues that some feel should be addressed.
Umi questioned the lack of a football program. According to him, a more comprehensive athletic program would help the kids to develop leadership and stay away from trouble.
“When you look at these kids you see potential leaders,” Umi said.
Santiago also blamed the incident partly in the school’s shortcomings. According to him, if compared to other schools statewide, Molokai falls short. “We have a dire need for social programs,” he said. “When things like that happen we can see why.”
“Many would like to see a football program,” Puleloa said. “But it’s too expensive.”
The school does have an athletic program, and according to Puleloa it benefits many children. But she said it’s financially prohibitive to develop a more comprehensive program.
Puleloa said there are some clubs in the school that are successful in keeping students out of trouble, such as the Leo Club, the Japan Club and the MEPO Club.
Santiago remains optimistic as well, and believes this last incident will bring something positive to Molokai youth. “Things don’t change overnight,” he said. “But these were important steps toward a real change.”