Hawaii is in a unique position. We are an island community with endless natural resources and we look for answers in a wired expensive world. Teachers here have had endless opportunities for project-based learning, we have been trained in school, out of school, and on our own.
My first introduction to Pukalani Elementary School was through a schoolwide training event by the Buck Institute. The entire school spent three full days learning the “Gold Standard” of project-based learning. The district has sponsored teachers islandwide to attend trainings from Kupu Hou Academy, a local treasure trove of support for project-based learning. Still, we look for answers in expensive educational software.
The answer is right under our noses — and we fail to embrace it. The salaries of our teachers are not only less than par, but they are constantly being threatened. What if instead of spending millions and millions of dollars on mainland instructional software like ASU Digital Prep and Acellus Academy, we paid our own teachers?
Teachers could return to school on time and plan for a semester of project- based lessons; it would be a fraction of the cost. Not only that, families and students would be provided with a meaningful opportunity to learn and grow. Copies can be made for reading material, lessons can been recorded, uploaded or livestreamed, and devices can be distributed. Teachers can teach in a way that makes sense for the times we are facing.
With a plan like this, we could have made the best with what we do have and would not be trying to figure out how to cover the cost of online learning software from schools based in Kansas City, Missouri and Arizona. Students could still come to school to check in twice a week and receive direction from teachers. Parents would not be left wondering if the state Department of Education’s choice for online learning was going to be acceptable.
In my school I have enough curriculum that has already been purchased by the district to get us through the year. I have a digital math platform, a digital reading platform, a digital science platform. And that’s not all! We have online textbooks. It’s already been paid for by the DOE! Pay teachers to plan for distance learning with the curriculum we have, using the platforms we already subscribe to.
The $9 million worth of federal CARES Act money seems to come with strings attached. Those strings seem to have ties with mainland schools that have been waiting in the wings to do a cash grab. Why can we not invest in our own?
Parents and teachers do not feel safe returning to school. I believe not providing families and teachers with manageable options has added insult to injury. Parents have been ill-informed as to not only the curriculum that will be used if they choose the 100% distance option, but also how the hybrid model will work. Because of their uncertainty, they are pulling their children out of hybrid models and accepting to support their children, who will be learning through ASU Digital Prep or Acellus Academy. As a result, they will be separating their children from the curriculum that their grade-level peers attending hybrid classes will be using.
There is no way Hawaii is ready to return to school on Aug. 4. People will die if this happens. To think we are risking our lives to be purveyors of some unknown digital curriculum, makes my stomach turn and my heart heavy. No one should feel the need to pull kids out of the free public education they have a right to. And they do feel that need. We can do better.
Delay the opening of school. Think outside of the box. Pay Hawaii’s teachers to plan for an amazing year. One that is safe and meaningful.
Miriam Clarke is a third-grade teacher at Pukalani Elementary.