Full Disclosure: No objectivity in this post as I’m an unabashed fan of Hawaii Academy of Arts and Sciences in Pahoa.
I’m a fan of HAAS because I’ve seen with my own eyes kids on the wrong path turn around their lives–thanks to the influence of dedicated teachers, a hard-working staff and the accepting environment they’ve created.
I’m a fan because my son transferred to HAAS when he was sixteen, one of the toughest ages to transition to another school/life, and immediately found acceptance and support from students, parents and teachers. They not only embraced my son, they embraced our whole family.
I’m a fan because HAAS focuses on developing quality kids who contribute to the community, with an emphasis on “goodness” over pure academics.
I’m a fan of HAAS because students learn lessons that can’t be taught from books–like respect, appreciation for parents, family and friends, and compassion for those less fortunate than themselves.
I’m a fan of HAAS because academically motivated students can choose to go as far as they want by taking advanced classes offered, even college courses.
I’m a fan of HAAS because academically unmotivated students are respected, nurtured and encouraged to find their undeveloped talents in areas that include agriculture, the trades, community service, technology, theater, music and dance.
I’m a fan of HAAS because fiscally the staff runs the school like a business (I know because I sat on HAAS’s local school board for two years).
I’m a fan of HAAS because teachers and administrators think out of the box in seeking improved methods to provide top quality education.
I’m a fan of HAAS because it encourages sustainable lifestyles and self-sufficiency by respecting the aina and teaching students to grow their own food. (HAAS has its own vegetable garden where students get hands-on instruction.)
I’m a fan of HAAS because it’s a hub that connects our community.
I’m a fan of HAAS because it’s a school that encourages cross-cultural activities and foreign language study to broaden the horizons of its students.
I’m a fan of all the nice kids, dedicated teachers, and innovative programs that HAAS offers in developing productive members of our community.
I could go on and on, but you get the point.
So now that we all know where my heart’s at…let’s move on to the meat of this post: for the 3rd year in a row we attended HAAS’s graduation ceremony. It never fails to move me. Here’s the basic format: each student chooses someone to introduce him or her–a teacher, mentor, parent or staff member–so all students get a personal introduction. Then each student gives a speech. Some are long, some short, some funny, some emotional. This year I noticed that all graduates expressed gratitude to parents, family and the school. They talked about what they learned at HAAS, and the value of the HAAS experience in preparing them for things to come. And they were all delightful, every one of them…got a little teary-eyed so had to keep the shades on to maintain my normally cool detached demeanor. 😉
One special graduate this year is a good friend of my son Grady (also a member of the same dance crew Cataclysm). His name is Tunji Johnson. Tunji has become the 3rd son that I never had, even has his own bedroom at my house when he chooses to spend the night. Some tidbits about Tunji:
His defining trait is a beautiful smile that can light up a room; when our paths cross he never fails to lift my spirits.
He is a natural performer with a stage presence and charisma that just can’t be taught.
He is an entertaining, high-energy dancer.
He is a gifted public speaker (as he demonstrated at the graduation with a smooth and witty extemporaneous speech).
But most important, Tunji is a good person. As a parent it’s heartening to know that my son knows how to pick his friends.
And we know where Tunji’s great character comes from: we’ve grown to love his family–all five siblings and lovely mom Teni. If you ever have the pleasure to meet the Johnson family, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Tunji–along with all his dance crewmates–is destined for the big time. He will attend UHH for a couple years then decide what to do next. We look forward to watching him grow.
We’re so proud of Tunji, Grady, and the quality kids they dance with. We’re proud of all the kids at HAAS. They are living proof that (contrary to popular myth) there are good kids in Puna.
Just a few pictures to commemorate the 2009 graduating class of HAAS. Sure would like to post pictures of the entire graduating class…but to avoid potential privacy issues we’ll stick to “family” for now:
Congratulations to the entire class at HAAS!