Dispatches from the Bridge’s End:
PRISM School Celebrates 10th Year of Practical Educating
“This school taught me some very important things. Most importantly: to be passionate about your world” seventeen year-old Tiana Conley says magnanimously to a room full of parents and current students at Aka`ula school. There is a reverent sparkle in her young eyes as she remembers a project on a topic not typically associated with fond memories- diapers. “My project on disposable diapers was very important to my education. Like many of you surely do today, I had younger siblings in diapers, and I saw how many disposable diapers were being used, and I just thought ‘wow- that’s entirely too much waste’, so I focused my project on that very problem.”
Tiana, along with Joreen Kepa and Reggie Villa, are former students who were asked to return for the tenth anniversary of PRISM’s founding in Hoolehua. The school focuses on fostering creative students who think independently; much of the work at the school focuses on real-world problems and things students see around them on a daily basis. Hawaii is quite susceptible to climate change, something PRISM has focused on heavily. “This school showed us that we need to be good examples to others of how to live clean lives.” Says Conley.
Seventy-nine year old Dr. Harold Hungerford, who is a founding member of PRISM and the creator of its base curriculum, moves and speaks like a much younger man when engaging the students in political debate.
During one of the debate panels Eighth-grade student Eric Gilliland commented, “Uninformed people shouldn’t be able to make important decisions on the environment, because their lack of knowledge might mislead the public and waste valuable energy and funding.” Gilliland has conviction usually possessed by people much older than he.
“That’s very true”, replies Dr Hungerford, his face brimming with gentle pride, “but uninformed people make these broad decisions all the time. (Informed people) have to align themselves with groups that are best suited to curry influence with those in power… that’s something I’m convinced of.”
After the environmental “debate” (there weren’t any takers for the anti-environmental side), Dr Hungerford sat down with The Dispatch to reflect on a decade of seeing the fruits of his labors on Molokai. “These teachers are amazing; they are making this school, which is a godsend to these students, a great environment to grow as individuals.”
A quick glance around the room provides microcosmic example of the autonomy that PRISM strives for: rather than AV personnel, it is the students who are operating cameras to capture the meetings. There are also students running the power-point presentations which display their findings on pollution at Kaunakakai Wharf. A student moderator in the debates fires off-the-cuff follow up questions at her peers on the panel.
“We want to nurture thoughtful, effective human beings and make sure that our graduates leave the school as responsible, skilled people who are prepared to make a difference in the world.” Dr Hungerford looks around at students working together to make the symposium work. “After ten years we are beginning to see a bigger picture of what the school has produced. I already credit our students with the creation of the HI5 (bottle + can recycling) Bill. As these kids graduate high school, get out in the world, maybe go and live off-island, their potential for greater effect grows. The coming years will be very exciting for data collection.”
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