By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Pahoa High and Intermediate School leads Big Island schools in the number of cases of serious misconduct committed by students over the last five years.
Between July 1, 2007, and June 30, 2012, Pahoa students tallied a total of 1,663 Class A and Class B offenses of the state’s administrative rules Chapter 19, which governs student misconduct and discipline.
Class A offenses include assault, burglary, fighting, homicide, robbery, sexual offenses, terroristic threatening, or possession or use of a dangerous instrument, weapon, or substance. Class B offenses include bullying, disorderly conduct, forgery, false alarm, gambling, harassment, hazing, theft, trespassing, and inappropriate or questionable uses of Internet materials or equipment.
Three other East Hawaii high schools top a list of Big Isle school offenses by school during the five-year period, according to data provided by the Hawaii Department of Education in response to an open records request. They include Keaau High with 984, Hilo High with 873, and Honokaa High & Intermediate with 728. They are followed by Kealakehe with 689, Ka‘u High and Pahala Elementary with 611, Waiakea High with 499, Konawaena High with 436, and Kohala High with 145.
Each school is required to keep track of its student misconduct statistics and report them to the state Department of Education.
Pahoa High and Intermediate Principal Darlene Bee explained that she and her faculty members are working hard to try to reduce the number of fights and other misconduct cases at the school, but limited resources and the school’s tight confines — in addition to hosting a mixture of high school- and intermediate-level students — serve to make that a difficult task.
“The intermediate students are our biggest concern. Them and the ninth-graders. We’ve really struggled with them in previous years,” she said.
Bee said that putting intermediate and high school students together on one campus serves to ratchet up disagreements and the spreading of rumors and “talking around about each other.”
During a recent tour of the campus, Bee pointed out the school’s small spaces in between the buildings, where students congregate before, in between, and after their classes.
“It’s easier to show you what we’re dealing with rather than tell you,” she said, pointing to a claustrophobic strip of grass in the center of the school’s campus.
“Now, imagine this area filled with 250 seventh- and eighth-graders,” she said. “(When a fight starts,) it’s hard to separate them, and when they’re bunched together like this, it’s easy for trouble to start. And it’s hard to get to them in time to stop it.”
The difference in the maturity levels of seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders has been an issue for the school for a long time, Bee said, and administrators have tried to separate them, but the resources just haven’t been available.
In the coming academic year, Bee hopes to give her students more activities to keep them occupied during outdoor breaks.
“My intermediate students really need a place to let go of their extra energy, so there’s going to be a play area in our teacher parking lot,” she said.
In August, work will begin on a project to convert part of one of the school’s two teacher parking areas to a play area, complete with fencing around the area, temporary basketball hoops and a temporary volleyball net.
Bee also plans to station the school’s student activities coordinator in an office right next to the parking area. Donations from various companies will cover the costs of the fencing and labor, as well as the hoops and balls.
Meanwhile, an old locker room will be getting a makeover to turn it into a gameroom.
“We’re looking to get all this work done by the end of the summer,” she said.
Keaau High School Principal Dean Cevallos, whose school tallied the second-highest number of offenses over the five-year period, said Monday that his students face a lot of challenges due to their socio-economic status, and that can filter over to their behavior at school.
“The biggest issue we’re facing is the communities in which we are housed,” he said. “Here in the school, we’re asking for a very different type of community than what they get when they’re outside the school.
“Many parents I talk to, they tell their kids, ‘If you get punched, you defend yourself.’ I think parents are very right in how they’re trying to raise their kids in their environment, however, when it comes to being in the school, there’s somebody behind every door. There’s someone you can trust who you can turn to. This is a safe environment.”
Cevallos explained that teachers and administrators can create a safe environment for the students to be in, but it only works if the students buy into the idea.
In the last couple of years, Keaau High has undertaken a number of changes to address student safety and behavior issues, including requiring students to wear a uniform T-shirt, in order for teachers to immediately recognize who does and does not belong on campus. Meanwhile, the school has instituted a ban on mobile phones and other devices that can serve as temptations for thieves or stir up disagreements among students.
“With the influx of technology into their lives, with texting, Instagram, MySpace, YouTube, kids who are usually far apart in these communities, it brings them closer to have immediate feedback, which can create problems,” Cevallos said. “It also makes it so they aren’t as accountable for what they say.”
The electronics policy has paid off by cutting back on thefts, he added.
“We saw great turnaround in our ability to have discipline go down in certain areas,” Cevallos said. “We’ve seen thefts go way down. We still have some of our socialization issues. … I don’t think we will ever eliminate it entirely with 800-plus kids. But truly, I think, no matter what school you’re at, the best thing you can do is making it safe for the kids, so they can get the best education. Whatever we do, we’re just trying to make it that environment where kids feel like, ‘OK, I’m going to be OK here.’ That’s our goal.”
Multiple phone calls made to Ka‘u-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Area Superintendent Mary Correa’s office seeking comment on her complex’s discipline statistics were not returned.
Email Colin M. Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.