Posted on: Thursday, December 30, 2004

Pledge to universe starts each day

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i Students at the Connections New Century Public Charter School start each day in the school's common area with a pledge to the universe, and a "statement of self-affirmation."

Jordan Motta, 8, tries his hand at taiko drumming during an exhibition at the Hilo Armory for pupils at Connections New Century Public Charter School. Motta is a third-grader.

Kevin Dayton The Honolulu Advertiser

The vaulted ceiling of the common area, on the first floor of the historic Art Deco-style Kress Building in downtown Hilo, towers more than 30 feet above the students' heads in the 1932 building. The students' voices echo in the hall as they repeat a statement that Connections' Principal and Chief Executive Officer John L. Thatcher II said captures the school's philosophy:

"I believe I am a unique and precious human being, my own best friend and my own worst enemy, a loveable and loving person capable of realizing my potential, self-respecting, responsible for my behavior, learning from my mistakes, creating a joyful life an important part of the universe," the students announce.

Connections has operated for about 10 years five as a school-within-a-school on the Mountain View School campus in Upper Puna, and almost five years as a stand-alone campus.

The impetus for founding Connections was the size of Mountain View, which at the time had more than 1,000 students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

Children were bused to Mountain View from a wide swath of the surrounding Puna countryside, and "a lot of these rural kids were getting lost. We started our school to address that problem of the alienation, of not just the kids but the families, too," Thatcher said.

Although Connections is in downtown Hilo today, about half of its students come from outside, Thatcher said. About 65 percent of Connections students receive free- and reduced-price lunches. The school now has students in kindergarten through ninth grade, with plans to add a new high school grade each year.

Thatcher said Connections' small size is one of its major strengths. Another is its partnership with the University of Hawai'i at Manoa's Curriculum Research Development Group, which has provided assistance with curriculum. Connections and the University of Hawai'i Laboratory School are now working with CRDG to test a math curriculum developed in Russia and translated into English, Thatcher said.

Connections rents 40,000 square feet on three floors of the Kress Building, sharing space with movie theaters and an ice cream parlor. It has become a comfortable fit.

"We had the school in here, and it just perked up the whole downtown," said Robert "Steamy" Chow, the on-site manager of the Kress Building.

What are you most proud of? We are most proud of the fact that we are celebrating our 10th anniversary as a school/program, said Thatcher.

Best-kept secret: Charter schools are public schools. We don't charge tuition.

Everybody at our school knows: Mr. Bob "Steamy" Chow.

Our biggest challenge: We receive no money to pay for our facilities. Charter schools must pay for their facilities and staff out of operating funds.

What we need: Equity with other public schools.

Special events: Equinox, Solstice, Chinese New Year, Fun Fair, Enrichment Days.

Reach Kevin Dayton at or (808) 935-3916.

At a glance

Where: 174 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo, Hawai'i

Phone: (866) or (808) 961-3664

Principal: John Thatcher, one of the founders of the school

School colors: Rainbow

School mascots: Kukui Nut Tree and the Honu

Web address:

Testing: Here's how Connections students fared on the most recent standardized tests. Stanford Achievement Test. Listed is the combined percentage of pupils scoring average and above average, compared with the national combined average of 77 percent: Third-grade reading, 69 percent; math, 68 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 86 percent; math, 64 percent. Eighth-grade reading, 76 percent; math, 68 percent. Hawai'i Content and Performance Standards tests. Listed is the combined percentage of pupils meeting or exceeding state standards, and a comparison with the state average: Third-grade reading, 48 percent, compared with the state average of 46.7 percent; math, 26 percent, compared with 26.7 percent. Fifth-grade reading, 36 percent, compared with state average of 49.9 percent; math, 14 percent, compared with 22.5 percent. Eighth-grade reading, 42 percent, compared with the state average of 38.7 percent; math, 16 percent, compared with 20 percent.

Enrollment: 291 students, in a school site originally built to be a department store.

Computers: Computer labs for K-3, 4-5, and 6-9 students. Secondary school students use a Linux LTSP server-based lab.

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