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A Class of Her Own

Ho`omana Hou honors student’s success.

Like most things at Ho`omana Hou High School, Friday’s graduation was a bit untraditional. Far from the pomp and circumstance of Molokai High’s ceremony, family, friends and teachers gathered to celebrate the achievement of the school’s sole graduate, Makana Puailihau Gomes.

The scene at Kalaniana`ole Hall — the same hall in which Gomes’ great-great grandmother’s funeral was held in 1992 — felt more like a birthday party than a graduation ceremony. One by one, Gomes’ mother, father, grandmother and grandfather took the stage and held back tears as they described how proud they were of Makana.

“She’s had a lot of trials and tribulations but praise God she’s overcame them,” grandmother Healani Gomes said, adding she saw a change in Makana when she transferred to Ho`omana Hou last fall — the smaller classes and hands-on approach to learning helped her overcome her shyness.

Makana, who plans to enroll at MCC in the fall, credits the school and its teachers for helping her graduate. “There’s so much aloha here,” she explains.

A Different Kind of Classroom

Ho’omana Hou, a private high school started in 2004 and run by the Molokai Community Service Council (MCSC), focuses on culture-based education. Most of its students go to Ho’omana Hou because they have had trouble in a traditional classroom setting.

“The high school is too rough,” freshman Danielle Mersberg said. “It’s hands-on here, so you learn more by having fun.”

This year Ho’omana Hou’s enrollment was just six students, though in previous years it has had as many as 19 students, according to Karen Holt, the school’s principal and MCSC executive director. Last year’s graduation had nine seniors.

“It’s really a community school for kids that need a different kind of learning environment,” Holt said.

“These aren’t your normal students,” added Walter Ritte, the school’s primary teacher since March. Introducing a new learning style can have a major impact on student performance.

“The proof is in the pudding,” he said.

Holt agrees. “We have seen child after child blossom because finally someone is explaining things in a language they can understand.”

Walk the Talk

The school’s philosophy is to move the classroom outdoors and let the island do the teaching. Ancient fish ponds and mangroves provide a setting to teach history, biology, ecology – all in ways that engages the students more than any textbook could.

“For Molokai kids, the wealth of resources is so amazing,” Holt said. “You can build a curriculum around those things.”

In the last decade, she added, schools like Ho’omana Hou that use culture-based education models have been growing in popularity and legitimacy.

A study last summer from Kamehameha Schools found that culture-based education significantly improves students’ Hawaiian language skills, their internalization of Hawaiian values and participation in cultural activities by bridging the gap between their home and school life.

Back at Kalaniana`ole Hall on Friday, Gomes’ classmates said after the ceremony they were looking forward to their own graduations. Sophomore Che Gonzales added that Ho`omana Hou is teaching them what they need to get there.

“If we stay at this school, we can make it,” he said.

Registration for the Ho`omana Hou 2010-2011 school year is now open to all students 14 years or older. Classes begin August 2. Tuition waivers and scholarships available. Ho’omana Hou is licensed by the Hawai’i Association of Independent Schools. Contact the Molokai Community Service Council (25 Kamehameha V Hwy across from the phone company) at 553-3244 or mcsc@molokai.org for more information.

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