School’s out! That’s enough to make any student cheer, and so they did yesterday when young scholars collected awards as the year ended at Holy Trinity School.
But there were tears amid the cheers because grim economic times forced the East Honolulu school to close after 51 years.
Catherine Jackson, mother of first-grader Sean, stood weeping during a prayer service as she listened to "You Lift Me Up," recorded at the eighth-grade graduation a week earlier. "This Little Light of Mine," performed with gusto by the children, added to Mom’s gusher because it was a farewell for classmates who will disperse to other schools.
"I love this school," said Fernando Nunez-Garcia, who graduated last week but returned to the campus for the finale. He and seventh-grader Nuuanu Colton belted out the alma mater, "We are tigers of Holy Trinity, the pride of Kuliouou."
News of the closing was announced in mid-April by the Rev. Gary Secor, parish pastor, who put a positive spin on the end yesterday.
"God has great things in store for you," he told the students. "You will take things you learned with you. It’s like reading a book; you have to keep turning the pages. We’re turning a page today, and there are new and exciting things ahead for you."
Enrollment at the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school dwindled to 69 this year, and more parents requested financial assistance to meet the $6,950 tuition. The school had not been self-sustaining for several years, increasing the budgetary burden on the 1,000-member parish, which borrowed $240,000 from the statewide Catholic diocese to make ends meet.
Compared with well-endowed schools, Holy Trinity operated on a shoestring with nine teachers; one paid secretary, Colleen Nakama, aided by full-time volunteer Betty Oliviera; and maintenance man Michael Kaleiopu.
"It was inevitable but unfortunate," said Jenne Snell, mother of fourth-grader Jonas and kindergartner Julius. "We all knew we had to meet the benchmark. We needed 115 students to survive."
Snell said there is no question that despite tuition costs, she will choose another church school. "The education is important but morality is the most important. They can’t teach that in a public school, not even the Ten Commandments. Our kids understand that our country was founded by people who believed in God."
The peace pledge recited by the youngsters demonstrates the school’s culture: "We believe that peaceful living without violence is possible. It begins with each person. It calls us to positive attitudes and actions of cooperation, sharing, service, prayer and self-discipline. As children of the world, we can make a difference. With God’s help we will make a difference."
Alex Bonilla said the school made a difference for his son, fifth-grader Alex Jr., who was recognized yesterday for making the honor roll.
"When he was here, he wanted to study and do well," Bonilla said. "He was shy in second grade, but he’s not shy anymore."
The principal managed to hold off tears during the flag-raising and prayer service, but personal hugs were her undoing.
"Continue to live God’s love wherever you go, and you will have Holy Trinity with you," Sister Rose Miriam Schillinger told the assembly. The closing led her to retire after 63 years in teaching and school administration, but she still holds a leadership role in the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.
"I wish the news media came while we were trying to survive," said teacher Liz McIntosh. "We got no attention when we tried to tell about our programs."
She assigned her fourth-grade class to write poetry "to get in touch with their feelings" about the closing, their teachers and farewells. "It was very powerful."
The poems were not part of the morning program, but McIntosh planned to read them at the teachers’ farewell luncheon. One verse rhyming "money" with "Easter bunny" was bound to stimulate laughter, but McIntosh predicted there would not be a dry eye in the adult crowd.