School’s unique curriculum helps all to thrive
By Don Robbins
At Hoala School, a private, nonsectarian nonprofit school delivering primary and secondary education in Wahiawa, the mission is to educate children by providing an environment in which they can flourish and take charge of their lives, according to head of school Phyllis Norton.
Fittingly, hoala means “awakening” in Hawaiian, and Norton explained that there are several factors of the school’s approach to education that support this translation and help to create its classrooms’ unique learning environments.
“Hoala School’s implicit curriculum of the ‘Four Rs’ — the core values of Responsibility, Respect, Resourcefulness and Responsiveness — guide all participants’ behaviors and ways of being in relationships to contribute to a healthy school culture,” she explained.
“Hoala School offers a transformational educational experience for students in kindergarten through 12th grade that develops self-motivated students and engaged teachers,” she continued. “We offer a healthy climate of trust, relationships and empowerment among teachers, students and parents.”
Habits that Hoala seeks to instill in children include personal dignity, cooperation and action, as opposed to passivity.
Additionally, the school serves as an education and training center for both parents and teachers.
Sister Joan Madden, a Catholic nun, began developing the Hoala Program out of a church in Wahiawa in 1972. After 14 years of growing under Madden’s guiding force as the institution’s principle, Hoala was ready to expand into a new home. In 1986, renting space from the Wahiawa YMCA, Hoala School kicked off its first year with 92 students.
“Since then, it has continued to flourish and grow as an organization and a community, and perhaps, a movement,” Norton said. “And its mission to have its students, teachers and parents grow as fully developed human persons has been met with resounding success and miraculous results.”
When it comes to the faculty members helping to carry out the school’s goals, Norton shares that Hoala School has a distinctive workplace culture. For example, its teachers strive to build trustworthy connections, which invite an atmosphere of mutual respect, a sense of belonging and significance, among their students.
Teachers create these relationships by listening to their students, taking them seriously and helping them feel needed.
“Communication and problem-solving skills are as important as academics and help students effectively handle conflicts, instead of yelling, blaming or avoiding issues when they arise,” Norton said. “We value patience and a willingness to listen to all sides, and we make decisions based on what we call ‘good of the whole,’ rather than dominance.”
In fact, teachers are called by their first names in order to create a sense of approachability with their students. Hoala teachers model behaviors that they want to see in their students.
Norton added, “Hoala School creates a nurturing environment, which helps students feel welcomed and supported and leads to successful, responsible, life-long learners who contribute toward the greater good in their communities and beyond.”
To achieve this, she said that teachers must be willing to learn a different approach to teaching and guiding students that might be different from the philosophies adopted at other schools.
For example: “If they tell students it’s OK to make mistakes, then teachers must also be willing to admit mistakes and learn from them,” Norton explained. “Teachers learn how to communicate effectively by following the shared values, take the parenting workshops that are offered twice each year and work effectively with other teachers, parents and students for the common good.”
Although changes and adaptations have occurred over the years, most notable is the addition of the service-learning component — which includes the national award-winning summer program, Camp Kokua — to the school’s regular curriculum.
Some of these opportunities have included park and beach cleanups, forest restoration, homeless outreaches — in partnership with various local agencies — as well as service trips to New Zealand, the Galapagos Islands and an annual trip to Kauai for high school students.
Additionally, a new foundation was formed by one of the core teachers, Linda Inlay, called, “Awakening Wisdom.” This new nonprofit organization was created based on Hoala’s educational philosophy, and is focused on training teachers and employees of businesses.
“Although some practices have evolved over the years, the core values that Hoala was founded on still remain to continue our mission of transforming the lives of students, teachers and parents who come through our doors,” Norton said.
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COMPANY: Hoala School
LOCATION: 1067 A California Ave., Wahiawa
HEAD OF SCHOOL: Phyllis Norton
BENEFITS: Fully paid medical and dental benefits for full-time employees
NOTEWORTHY: Staﬀ have the opportunity to learn new approaches to teaching that will benefit their careers and their personal lives.