Elementary school journalists learn to seize student voice


A journalism class in an elementary school? Under the direction of teacher Kawailehua Pakjake, Kapunahala students are learning reporting fundamentals. “My goal is to give them a love of writing, show them that it’s not strenuous and assure them that people want to hear their voices,” she said.

Introductory journalism classes — not yearbook, photography or essay writing — are rare outside of college. Even rarer is a "J" course for fourth- through sixth-graders.

So it's fair to say a remarkable thing is happening at Kapunahala Elementary in Kaneohe — 10 students are enrolled in an afterschool class learning journalism fundamentals. And to get into the enrichment program class, taught by Kawailehua Pakjake, students must first write a 50-word essay.

This is not a babysitting program. Pakjake, a journalism graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, educates students on the craft of newswriting and the basics of reporting, and builds students’ confidence as writers. The coursework challenges the 9- to 11-year-olds to step out of their comfort zones: Interview authority figures, take a stand in editorials and tackle hot issues. The students' work is published in the Dolphin Press, a class-produced bulletin named after Kapunahala’s mascot.

Sixth-grader Kye Steele interviewed Principal Deborah Nekomoto after learning about conducting interviews and the importance of having a good reputation to gain sources’ trust. “It was a 10-minute interview in her office,” Steele said. “It took me two weeks to prepare. I was nervous.” (Read Kye's interview, below.)

Pakjake’s class meets for one-and-a-half hours once weekly for six weeks. Students may re-up in the next quarter to further build their skills.

“I tell them that they get to be nosy," Pakjake said.

Recent exercises included composing op-eds about wearing school uniforms, getting quotes from four expert sources for each article, and writing live-theater reviews.

While reviewing Castle Performing Arts Center’s Hairspray, fifth-grader Skye Bass learned how to “balance the positive with the negative,” she said. She sees journalism as a possible second job after her lucrative dental career. “I like asking questions,” she said.

Besides feeding curious natures, the course gives students the satisfaction of seeing their work in the Dolphin Press as well as the school newsletter, Makua Monthly. The Dolphin Press lists them as staff writers in the masthead.

“My goal is to give them a love of writing, show them that it’s not strenuous and assure them that people want to hear their voices,” Pakjake said.

Mrs. Nekomoto up for two distinguished awards

By Kye Steele / Dolphin Press Staff Writer

Mrs. Nekomoto has held her job as Principal for six years and has been nominated for dual awards this year, The Masayuki Tokioka Excellence in School Leadership and the National Distinguished Principal Award.

When she found out, she was honored and happy to have earned nominations and have a great school. It’s a huge accomplishment for her, and exceptional for the school. She’s not sure if she will get either of them. However, if she wins the Masayuki Tokioka Award she would use it to enhance the extra programs.

Mrs. Nekomoto thinks we have had academic leaps with Kapunahala enrichment programs. She believes that the school-parent-staff-community relationship is a big part of it. She feels it has a good impact and is wonderful. Everyone plays a big role in the contributing to our school.

When asked if she could have anything she wanted for the students; “I think if everyone could have one-to-one technology.”

Good Luck Mrs. Nekomoto! We’re rooting for you!

Contact Information

Jorene Barut

Phone: 808-233-5700 x. 268

Email: jorene_barut@hawaiidoe.org

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