Happy Anniversary Voyagers!
Island School is responsible for kick-starting the academic lives of hundreds of students since 1976. What began with only 12 students in a quaint Kealia building has grown to accommodate 426 keiki (pre-K-12) on a sprawling 40-acre campus in Puhi.
“Island School changes lives — it changes children’s lives and families’ lives and creates opportunities,” says Lindsay Kamm, one of seven original founders or, as the grassroots group of women call themselves, founding “mothers” of the school. “It empowers kids. It’s an amazing jewel of a place.”
The private school celebrates its 40th anniversary Friday (Jan. 27). Along with a birthday, it also rejoices in the steady curriculum growth since it first opened its doors. Island School (IS) offers various activities today that were hardly a blip on the radar a few decades ago. Initially, for example, the only sports-related class was swimming, but now it incorporates several athletic programs including track and cross-country.
The school’s extensive offerings include the arts, such as theatre and drawing. And instructors of its innovative programs, including Sabra Kauka, who teaches Hawaiian studies, and Philip Steinbacher, who leads the chorus, have gained respect over the years for their positive impact on keiki.
“I’m really proud to work with all of the staff,” says Cristy Peeren, who has been at IS some 36 years and currently heads the elementary school, as well as teaching first grade.
About 60 staff members make the school tick, including maintenance and administration, such as head of school Shannon Graves, who took the reins from Bob Springer in 2015.
“This is the strongest school I’ve been at,” says Graves, who also had worked at Hawaii Preparatory Academy on Hawaii island.
He’s especially proud that the students are excelling academically. Last year, the graduating class of 2016, comprised of 30 students, were accepted to 75 colleges and universities across the county. They also were awarded a total of $2 million in scholarships based upon scholarly merit.
“It’s like being proud of your child,” says Kamm, when asked how she feels about the progress the school has made since its inception.
Kamm, who had taught English at Kauai High School, adds that there is a common misconception that the private school is only for keiki from privileged backgrounds, while in reality more than a third of the students receive financial aid.
“It is not nearly as selective as people may think,” says Kamm, who also has served as IS’s board president and head of school. “The difference is not that Island School students are so elite or wealthy or gifted. Having taught in both settings, I think the main difference is in the high expectations — for teachers and students — regarding both academics and behavior. It’s the learning environment, the culture of the school.”
Opening a school on Kauai, however, isn’t always an easy venture. In fact, the many ups and downs of starting a college preparatory-style institute is indicated in the recently published book about IS’s 40-year history, Island School: The Voyage.
One pitfall, for instance, was in 1992, when the school moved to its new campus in Puhi. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, Hurricane Iniki ravished the island.
“The hurricane came and trashed it; tore the roof off,” says David Pratt, an IS board member and past board president.
Yet they quickly managed to pick up the pieces and within a week, the school reopened. In fact, it was the first school to do so after the hurricane, further demonstrating its tenacity.
The school also goes above and beyond to accommodate the ever-evolving academic and extracurricular climate. Its board, including president Kathy Richardson, works with staff and parents each year to incorporate new curriculum. In fact, the ability to use the “best educational practices” without “bureaucracy and red tape” is one of the things that sets the school apart, says Peggy Ellenburg, one of IS’s co-founders who currently wears many hats at the school, including teaching theatre arts.
Something else that sets IS apart, according to Pratt, is its willingness to treat every child as an individual with their own unique attributes “and making them feel OK and safe,” he says.
Eventually, the goal is to expand IS’s facilities to accommodate 500 students. But for now, teachers like Peeren and Ellenburg continue to delight in providing the best educational experience possible for the students they already serve.
“It’s truly a joy to teach first grade; I wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Peeren.
Ellenburg shares similar sentiments. “What’s not to love about this job?” she asks. “Plus, I get regular hugs from incredible little human beings all day long.”qVisit ischool.org for more information.