POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Nov 13, 2011
The first lady of Malaysia dropped by Palolo Elementary on Saturday to praise teachers and staff for stimulating student achievement despite big challenges and to donate $10,000 to help the school push ahead with its sustainability curriculum.
About 50 parents, students and teachers were at the school to greet Datin Paduka Seri Rosmah Mansor, the wife of Malaysia's prime minister, when she arrived about 9:30 a.m. Children sang a welcome mele (song) and presented her with lei before she spoke to the small group in a classroom.
"I know this school has done very well," she said.
The visit began a busy weekend for Palolo Elementary School Principal Ruth Silberstein. Today, Silberstein is to attend a luncheon with first lady Michelle Obama for spouses of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders at Kualoa Ranch. Silberstein said she is a guest of President Barack Obama's sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, an education advocate.
Soetoro-Ng also invited other educators to the luncheon.
Tonight, Silberstein will also attend a dinner with Malaysia's delegation.
"Pinch me and wake me up," Silberstein said.
Palolo Elementary, with 280 students, is a turnaround success story for the community, managing to make sizable gains in student achievement year after year.
The school also recently adopted a sustainability-focused curriculum, in which students maintain aquaponic systems, vegetable gardens, a "rain forest" and medicinal herbs, and build underwater robots to measure pollution.
As he waited at the entrance of Palolo Elementary with other parents, children and community members Saturday, Stephen Maybir hoped the visit by Malaysia's first lady during the busy APEC week would help break misconceptions about the school.
Maybir was there with his sister, whose two children attend Palolo.
"It starts with one person," he said, adding, "There is a stigma" attached to the school because it is in a disadvantaged neighborhood and struggled for so many years.
About 97 percent of students at Palolo Elementary come from low-income families.
Fourth-grader Hina Ioana, 8, was practically bouncing up and down with anticipation as she waited for the first lady's arrival. She hoped to talk to the Malaysian dignitary about how she's learning about aquaponics.
"It makes me feel proud to represent our school," she said.