by Alice Keesing
5,4,3,2,1 … Misaki Beck watched anxiously as her raw egg parachuted from the top of a ladder. There was an unmistakable crunch. Misaki retrieved the soggy mess, then headed back into her Little Einsteins’ classroom, determined to make a new and improved egg-plane.
Conquering the egg drop was just the start of Misaki’s fifth-grade day at Hawaii Technology Academy in Ewa Beach. She’s been attending the public charter school for four years and loves the opportunities she has there.
“It’s fun and it’s safe,” she says. “And it encourages students to become more active because we get more help. The parents, students and teachers all help each other. And then when students do well, that makes the parents and teachers feel good, too.”
A popular saying at HTA is “we do school differently.” As a public charter school, HTA has the flexibility to do school differently to better meet the needs of its families. It also means there is no tuition.
The school uses what is called a blended model of education. During the week, there are days when students are on campus with their teachers and friends; and other days when they are taking virtual classes with their teachers while at home with their parents or guardians.
This creates a flexible schedule that gives HTA students the freedom to explore their passions. There are HTA students who are leaders in athletics and the arts, others who are winning awards in media and technology, and others who are already successful entrepreneurs. In high school, students can step into the Career-Based Learning program that allows them to participate in internships, experiential programs, jobs or independent projects.
“With our many community partners, our students are getting out in the community and tackling real-world problems and their solutions,” says HTA executive director Matt Zitello. “Studies show that this kind of independent, hands-on learning really sets students up for success after graduation. It also improves college readiness and cultivates employability.”
Misaki’s morning Little Einstein’s class is taught by a high school senior from the HTA Waipahu campus. She’s been leading Little Einsteins for elementary students for four years — bringing science-based fun to them and gaining valuable experience for herself along the way. It’s just one example of how the whole ohana collaborates at the school.
“Because of our blended model and because of our small school size, we really understand the importance of relationships,” says Ewa Beach campus director Dashawne Frazier. “Parents have an active voice and they’re part of the team. Our students see that collaboration, and they learn how to work together as well.”
For teachers, HTA’s blended schedule allows them to be creative. Importantly, it also gives them time to spend with those students who need some extra help or an extra challenge – a luxury in public education.
Their classes also emphasize hands-on learning. Shortly after Misaki’s egg drop challenge, she donned science lab goggles along with her fifth grade peers and experimented with exploding chemical reactions. Her recent schedule also included shaping chocolate bowls over balloons and decorating a tile at the Clay Cafe. And every Friday she joins her peers on the Design Team where they work hand-in-hand with Zitello on projects for their campus.
Misaki’s group is creating a peaceful space for students in a gazebo on the backfield.
“It will be a place where kids can just hang out,” she says. “Where we can relax. Sometimes you just want fresh air. Sometimes you just need some alone time. I like that I get to help the school.”
And how about that egg?
“I was a bit sad that the first one broke, but I knew I could do better,” Misaki says. “I like that we got to try again.”
Building on the lessons of the first round, Misaki packed her second egg into a chicken-shaped cocoon “so it could absorb the energy when it hit the ground,” she explains.
It was an egg-cellent success.