From the outside, Waipahu Elementary School looks like any other public school. Bright murals reminding students to “Be the I in kind” adorn the walls, while a faded blue and yellow sign reminds parents of upcoming events for the 2022-23 school year.
But beyond the campus gates, clothing racks filled with sweatshirts, washing machines available to families and bookshelves crammed with toothpaste bottles and deodorant provide evidence that this is a different kind of school.
Waipahu Elementary is one of the emerging leaders in Hawaii’s community schools movement.
Community schools function no differently from other public schools within the Department of Education. However, they distinguish themselves by partnering with local organizations to provide comprehensive services to students and families while also involving community members in the administration of the school. By considering the challenges children face inside and outside of the classroom, community schools aim to consolidate multiple programs and support systems in one place.
During this year’s legislative session, state leaders joined the national discourse on the growing importance of community schools during the Covid-19 pandemic.
House Bill 1941 would have required the DOE to offer grants for planning and implementation of community schools over a two-year period. The bill passed the House but not the Senate.
“I think one of the great things that this legislation brought forward was this new model of what education can look like and what it can do, not just for students, but for communities,” said Rep. Jeanne Kapela, who introduced the bill.
For David Sun-Miyashiro, founding executive director of HawaiiKidsCAN, community schools just make sense.
“I think the real asset is that Hawaii has a tight-knit community,” he said. “We have a whole range of partners in our communities, and I think it’s very natural to really try to lean on and support each other.”
Sun-Miyashiro hopes to implement the community school model in Hawaii through the Resilient Communities, Schools and Families Partnership. Drawing on the leadership of several organizations across the state, the partnership aims to transform five rural schools on Oahu, Maui and Hawaii island into community schools.
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