discipline

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Ralph Aviles

 

Before his current career as a bus operator with O‘ahu Transit Services, where he’s been for more than 30 years, Ralph Aviles was a professional featherweight boxer. At one point, he ranked third in the world in his division. Aviles says boxing helped him develop confidence, discipline, humility and respect – traits that he now strives to nurture in local at-risk youth.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Aug. 16, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Aug. 20, at 4:00 pm.

 

Ralph Aviles Audio

 

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Transcript

 

Do you miss the connection when you knock somebody out? Do you miss that?

 

No, I don’t miss it. I just miss being in the ring and, you know, raising the hand that you win, you know. You know when your hand go up. I miss all of that.

 

And the crowd goes wild.

 

Oh, yeah. You know, it all pays off; yeah? Because hard work.

 

For you, what is it to be a tough guy?

 

Humble, quiet; but yet inside, you know what you can do. That’s the most important. I don’t need to prove to anybody what I used to be, or what I was before, and stuff, you know.

 

He was once one of the top professional boxers in the world, in the junior lightweight class. Today, he teaches what he’s learned in and out of the boxing ring to at-risk youth in public housing. Ralph Aviles, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program

produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Ralph Aviles of Ewa Beach, Oahu is a former professional boxer who reached the rating of Number 3 in the world in the junior lightweight division during the mid-1980s. However, he received only modest press coverage. As a boxer, Aviles overcame obstacles and learned how to deal with adversity. But his challenges in the ring paled in comparison to the struggles he faced as a child growing up on the West side of Oahu.

 

First that I can recall was living in Nānākuli when I was very, very young, at the age of probably two or three; Nānākuli. I was born down Mākaha side. Then we moved to … Māili, and then we moved to Mākaha.

 

And what was your family like?

 

My family was like … we was pretty much close at the time, because we had very, very hard time. My mom wasn’t working.

 

What about your dad?

 

We never had a dad at that time. Yeah.

 

Never met your dad at that time?

 

No.

 

So, just your mom. Your mom wasn’t working, but she was having babies?

 

Yes. We was on low income at the time; yeah?

 

Did your mom tell you why you didn’t see your dad?

 

No; she didn’t explain. My mom was a lot more to herself. We had to live more on our own. You know, survive on our own.

 

She kept to herself.

 

Yeah; she kept more to herself.

 

So, how many of you lived together at the same time with your mom?

 

About seven of us.

 

What do you recall?

 

I recall we didn’t have a table to sit on to eat. So, we would sit on the floor and eat. Yeah, we would go out and play. And you know, we never have so much toys, but then, we would make our own toys one way or another. Play under the house, and you know, just entertain our own self. You know. We had a … hard time.

 

Living conditions for Ralph Aviles and his family improved when Able Aran entered his life and became his stepdad. Aran was the first father figure in Ralph’s life, and began to coach him in boxing when he was five years old. The large family would eventually move to an even more rural place, the sleepy village of Pahoa on Hawai‘i Island.

 

My stepdad, he started to move in with us in Nānākuli. And then, he moved us out of Nānākuli, into Māili, in a regular home. Whereas, Nānākuli was a low income place; yeah?

 

And then, when did you go to Pahoa?

 

After living in Mākaha for a few years.

 

What was Pāhoa like?

 

Very, very slow. You know, everything just went stop. When we got there, everything was like, okay …

 

You know. It’s like, in the beginning, when we first moved there, for a few years, you know, we never like there. We never like it. We didn’t enjoy being there. You know, everything was just different; was just … nothing was surrounded, everything was just spread apart.

 

But you had each other, still.

 

Yes.

 

And then, your stepdad took an interest in the boys’ boxing.

 

Yes. He created a boxing club up in Pāhoa. Then we used to come down, fight for the Golden Gloves, and you know, amateur boxing. And we used to compete a lot, ‘cause we had our own club.

 

So, was it always disciplined fighting like boxing, or did you guys get in trouble too?

 

No, not very much, we was in. We was always disciplined, you know. We was never in trouble; yeah?

 

That’s pretty good.

 

Yes. I mean, you know, now you brought that up, you know, I’m like, wow, you know, yeah, I never realized that. But you know, I guess because of the Police Athletic League, they was always, you know, emphasizing to all the clubs and the districts, you know, Stay out of trouble; yeah? That’s what it was. That’s what it was helping; yeah?

 

And they were helping you use your energy up in a disciplined way.

 

Yes; yes. They was really backing us up back then, the Police Athletic League. They used to supply us with all the equipment.

 

You probably had to learn a lot of … there’s a lot of mental attitude; right? I mean, you know, it’s not just the physical, it’s really about how to control your psyche as you fight.

 

Yes. People think when you get hit, you get mad; yeah? No; it’s not like that in the ring. Yeah. I’m talking about boxing; I’m not talking about you know, MMA, UFC. I’m talking about boxing. You know, boxing, you have to stay in control, you know.

 

It’s very strategic.

 

Yes; you have to be always thinking. Yeah? And you cannot get mad, ‘cause once you lose your temper, you know, the guy is gonna take care of you. He’s gonna do a good job on you. Because you’re not focused.

 

They say that some of the best boxers are those who come from very tough circumstances, and they have kind of a nothing-to-lose attitude. Like, I want to get out, and this is gonna get me out. Would you say that’s motivated you?

 

Well, what really motivated me was my stepdad. You know, he would always push me. Even when I was trying to play another sport in school, high school basketball, you know, football … when came time for events, big events in boxing, he would pull me out. And I would get very, very upset about it, but then, you know, today, that’s the right thing he did for me, you know, I think.

 

Under the strict guidance of Abel Aran, his stepfather and coach, Ralph Aviles became a professional boxer at age eighteen.

 

When I turned eighteen, my first fight was in Japan. I fought the world champ kickboxer.

 

Kickboxer?

 

Yes. But he became a professional boxer. But he was a world champ kickboxer. And we fought eight rounds.

 

And? You won?

 

Yes; I won. Was in Japan.

 

That was your very first professional bout?

 

Yes. And then, from there on, it just took off. You know, I was main event here, ten rounds.

 

Who did you fight?

 

Many different fighters from the Philippines, Mexico. They would always bring down a fighter; yeah?

 

And where did you fight? What was the venue? Was it at Blaisdell?

 

Blaisdell. Was HIC at the time, yeah?

 

HIC; right.

 

Yes.

 

Good crowd?

 

Three thousand, four thousand. You know. Five thousand; it all depends, yeah? It varies.

 

Any names we would know of the folks you fought?

 

No; they was all from, you know, different states, different countries. Yeah. Mexico, Philippines.

 

Your mom was involved too; right?

 

Yes.

 

What did she do?

She was the manager.

 

The momager?

 

She was my manager for a few years when I turned professional.

 

How many other women were involved at the time?

 

She was the first in Hawai‘i. And still the first, I believe.

 

And how did she manage you? What were her skills as a manager?

 

Well, she would do a lot of cooking for me, and wherever I would go, she would be next to me, you know. She like, was a mentor to me; yeah? We was close; me and my mom was very close. Yeah; no matter what. You know, whatever she did, I would never look at her in the wrong way. I was always—you know. I had a lot of respect for her. ‘Til this day.

 

So, all of your brothers wanted to do more with boxing? I mean, you went professional. Did they, too?

 

No; I was the only one that went professional.

 

Okay now; why is that?

 

Because my brothers … couple of them went to the military, you know. They went their own separate ways; yeah? The sport is very, very challenging; yeah? It’s very hard work. Not everybody can really maintain it, you know, for so many years; yeah?

 

Yeah.

 

It’s hard.

 

Yeah; you get beat up too, sometimes. Right?

 

Yes.

 

It’s not a one-way street.

 

Yes, yes; you do. You know, I gotta admit that; yes, yes. You know.

 

What were you known for?

 

I would love to throw a left hook to the body; yeah? Yeah. And movements; defense. Yeah; that was very important to me. If you don’t have defense, then you know, it’s hard to … move up in the game; yeah? I’m not one that … even though the hand is raised, I’m not one that likes the win if you’re all cut up. So, you know, that’s why I advertise a lot about defense. Yeah.

 

What did you learn from other fighters? You know, everybody has their style and their stance, and their approach. What did you learn from others that came up against you?

 

There’s a little respect for each other. When you’re in a ring, and you hit each other, you have a little respect, you know.

 

That you could get to each other.

 

Yes; for each other. And you can kinda sense it, you know.

 

What was the hardest time you had in the ring?

 

My hardest time was … wasn’t in the ring; was in the locker room.

 

What happened?

 

My real dad approached me.

 

Your real dad?

 

Yes.

 

Whom you’d never met before.

 

Yes. And … it was really devastating because … I was just getting ready for the fight. Was intermission, and I was putting on my robe, putting on my gloves. And my manager said, Ralph, I have a surprise for you.

 

Your manager said that?

 

Yes.

 

Oh …

 

Not my mom manager, but my other manager, who was Larry Ichinose. He said, Ralph, I have a surprise for you. And then, I looked by the door.

 

You knew what he looked like?

 

Yes; I kinda knew what he looked like, you know. Then when he stand by the door, I was like … I was in shock, because I wasn’t sure of myself. Should I go and hug him, or should I just stand here and stay here? Because my stepdad was standing right me. Should I show emotions? I never know what to do.

 

Yeah.

 

I was just confused. And I was getting ready to fight in fifteen minutes. Putting on my gloves, everything, you know.

 

Kinda wondering about Mr. Ichinose’s timing.

 

Yes; yes.

 

So, what did your father say?

 

He didn’t say anything.

 

And you didn’t say anything?

 

I didn’t say much. I just said, Oh, hi. And Larry Ichinose, you know, just all of a sudden said, You know what, Ralph, I was putting up posters Downtown, and he came and approached me and said, That’s my son. And Larry Ichinose said, What, that’s your son? So, Larry Ichinose asked him what was my mom’s name. And he mentioned all that to him, so he knew that this guy wasn’t joking. He knew that this guy was for real. That’s why he brought him to the fight, for the first time.

 

Did you have a conversation with him?

 

No, I did not.

 

So, he never said much, you never said much.

 

No.

 

And then, he just walked away?

 

I just gave him kinda like a hug. You know, not real big hug, but just a hug, and you know, it was time to get into the ring. But my mind was already just going. I lost my determination.

 

And you lost the fight?

 

I lost the fight.

 

Ralph Aviles says for years, he did not know that following that surprise appearance, his birth father suffered a beating by people protective of the newly-successful young boxer, and was warned to stay away. Ralph never saw his birth father again. In 1992, ten years after their brief meeting, Ralph found out more about Esperanzo Aviles, the father he never knew.

 

He was homeless. You know, he was alcoholic, homeless, pushing wagons. Living down Chinatown. I never know, until the coroner’s office called me.

 

And how did they know you were his son?

 

They found some paper clippings of my fights in his wagon.

 

He carried clippings of you … in his life.

 

Yes.

 

So, that sounds like love.

 

They found him in … found him in the ocean; Chinatown.

 

Mm.

 

Drowned.

 

Yeah; hard to get past things like that, right? I mean, it’s just something you never … could have known about, and you just have to accept. Couldn’t know the man, and … he died … probably wanting to get to know you.

 

M-hm.

 

Although Ralph Aviles never knew his biological father, he had several positive adult male influences besides his stepdad.

 

Remember any names of people who helped you out?

 

James Takushi.

 

James Takushi, the State labor negotiator?

 

Yes. Yes.

 

He was a boxing fan?

 

Very much. Yes. His son is also a boxing fan too, and the son is my age, too. So, you know, me and him, we get along real fine. We’re good friends, we’ve been friends for years, and years, and years. You know, back when I first started professional.

 

How did he help you?

 

He got me a job when I came down, when I was on the Big Island, then I moved here, back here. Moved back over here, he got me a job, part-time job so that way, I can work when I’m not fighting, and when I’m fighting, I can take off easily. I had no problem, you know. So, he did a lot for me, and you know, he was always checking up on me, and you know, make sure that I’m on track, that I’m not banging the guardrails; right? Once you start banging the guardrails, you know that you’re not on track, so you know you gotta re-track yourself again; yeah? And I had Ted Kimura. He was the owner of Island Termite at that time. Island Termite was a big termite company at that time. He was also helping the younger generation, the younger kids. He was doing a lot of donations, too. Yeah. And he helped me out a lot, too. You know, not financial, but mostly, you know, physically and just talking. And letting me know the rights and wrongs.

 

Of the game, or of the sport?

 

Of the sport, and what’s out there; yeah?

 

Or what not to get involved in.

 

Yes; yes. Yeah.

 

You were way up there in the world of boxing in your class. Right?

 

Yes. Yes; I was number three in the world. Rated number three in the world.

 

How long did it take you to become number three in the world?

 

Just about eight years.

 

In what division?

 

Junior lightweight. So, hundred thirty pounds. Yeah. Of course, now, I’m not hundred thirty pounds.

 

Who did you fight to get there?

 

Well, actually, I fought couple fighters that fought for the title, but they also lost the title. I mean, not the title, but that match; you know. So, I fought couple of them. One was from the Philippines, and one was from Mexico. And then, I beat them, so that’s how I moved up in ranking; yeah? And you know, back then, the WBC was very strict too, so you know, you really had to perform and earn your position.

 

So, from eighteen to age twenty-six; that’s how long you fought professionally?

 

Yes. I had thirty-three fights, professional. Twenty-eight wins and five losses, with eighteen knockouts. I retired in 1986.

 

And why did you retire?

 

My good friends offered me a good job.

 

Which was?

 

Driving the City bus. And to this day, I’m still driving the City bus, after thirty-one years.

 

So, how did they make their case for the City bus versus number three in the world boxing?

 

Because Sad Sam Ichinose wasn’t around to promote fights anymore. You know, I was just fighting here in Hawaii, and not moving up in rankings and stuff. I was looking for a title fight, but I never did have a title fight.

 

You have to be offered the opportunity; right?

 

Yes, yes. Well, you know, you had to become number one before you get a title fight; yeah?

 

Yeah. So, you could see it wasn’t going to a good place.

 

Yes.

 

It wasn’t going in the right direction.

 

Yeah, yeah. And you know, I was getting up in age, too. Well, you know, twenty-six years old, then I figure, you know. And I said, You know what, if I have a job, I might as well just take this, and just … ‘nough already.

 

So, after you finished boxing and you started bus driving, did you start a family?

 

Yes. Start a family, and you know, I got two kids right now, a boy and a girl. They’re twenty-five and twenty-three.

 

Since retiring from professional boxing in 1986, Ralph Aviles has lived a quiet life as a City bus driver and family man. Aviles volunteers with Matt Levi, a private investigator and journalist, to help him work with at-risk youth. Matt founded the nonprofit Lawakua Kajukenbo Club that operates at public housing complexes.

 

We work out. I teach them, you know, striking, self-defense, and how to keep your hands up. It’s just basically boxing, you know. And you know, they enjoy it. I hold the mitts for them, you know, I teach them combinations. They love it. They like that, you know. They can let out their anger, let out their frustrations.
Okay; one, two, three.

 

Good. Then come back again, with your left hand. One, two.
Three.

 

Back with your left hand.

 

One.

 

One, two.

 

Some people would say, Oh, my god, these kids are at risk, and you’re teaching them how to hit people. Why is it a good thing to teach them boxing?

 

We never bring up hitting people; yeah? We don’t bring that up. And you know, these kids as they’re going, they’re not thinking to themselves that they are hitting people, and going out there and hitting people. Because we’re teaching them self-respect, you know.

 

So, they think of it in terms of self-defense and self-respect.

 

Yes.

 

They can protect themselves.

 

Yeah.

 

They can be strong.

 

M-hm. And they get confidence, no matter where they go, you know.

 

Okay; because he’s throwing… throwing, and all you did is blocking, blocking, blocking, which is good. But what we need to do now is move side-to-side, too; yeah?

 

Getting him tired by just moving back and forth, and all over the place. Okay? So, use your hands; let your hands do all the work. Okay? …right there.

 

What’s a situation where this would help them?

 

This will help them. At least they can … instead of get into one major fight, instead of getting into trouble, they can try to avoid it. And why I say try to avoid it is because they know self-defense. You know. So, they can easily block and say, You know what, I don’t want to fight. You know, I told them that, you know, we need to grow and have some self-esteem, and some confidence before you can get out there and share whatever you want to share with others. Because if you don’t have confidence, you know, you tend to get off track and do the wrong things.

 

Do you see yourself in them?

 

I never thought about that, you know, if I see myself in them. But I always thought, even when I was young, that you know … I think respect was always first on my list.

 

How to get respect?

 

Yes. So, you know, I always carried that around; yeah? You gotta have respect for yourself before you can show respect; yeah?

 

So, how wonderful; it’s good for the young people you’re training, and it’s good for you.

 

Yes. No, it is. That’s why it’s good now that I’m doing this, because it’s like a wakeup call; yeah? Even my wife said, you know, It’s good that you’re doing this, you need to do this, you know.

 

Retired professional boxer Ralph Aviles says he was emotionally isolating himself, turning inward. It’s brought new light into his life to connect with young people, and pass along lessons he’s learned the hard way. He feels he’s benefiting just as much as those he helps. As of this conversation in June of 2017, you’ll still find Aviles humbling driving his City bus through the neighborhoods of Central Oahu. That’s another definition of being a tough guy; doing what it takes to support oneself and care for family day-after-day, year-after-year. As he said, thirty-one years so far. Mahalo to Ralph Aviles of Ewa Beach for sharing your story with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie

Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with

Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

[END]

 

THE MIND OF A CHEF
Instinct and Discipline

 

It took a move to Los Angeles, starting a family and a rough restaurant review for Ludo to figure out what he really wanted to do. Examine the ties between artists and their education, and how childlike wonder can, in fact, translate into a career.

 

Becoming an Artist

Becoming an Artist. Baryshnikov mentors students in their endeavors as artists.

 

Enjoy an inspiring tribute to the power of mentoring and the vital role it plays in passing on our artistic cultural heritage from one generation to the next. The documentary features acclaimed artists across the disciplines, including Mikhail Baryshnikov, Robert Redford, Rosie Perez, Bill T. Jones, Frank Gehry, John Guare and Kathleen Turner working with some of the nation’s most talented students selected by the National YoungArts Foundation. BECOMING AN ARTIST is a celebration of our cultural vitality and the need to ensure its continuance.

 

E.O. Wilson:
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This film chronicles the remarkable life and groundbreaking ideas of biologist E.O. Wilson, founder of the discipline of sociobiology, world authority on insects and Pulitzer-prize winning writer on the subject of human nature.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Gail Awakuni

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Gail Awakuni

 

Original air date: Tues., Mar. 11, 2008

 

National High School Principal of the Year 2004

 

A veteran public school teacher and DOE administrator, Gail Awakuni became principal at Campbell High School just before the school year began in 2000. The school was known for gang and discipline problems. It posted some of the lowest test scores and highest drop-out rates in the state. Fewer than half its students were graduating.

 

This year? The school says 99% of its seniors will earn diplomas. Test scores are way up. And Campbell High School is earning academic awards and accolades. What happened? We’re about to meet a petite and powerful agent of change named Gail Awakuni.

 

Gail Awakuni Audio

 

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Transcript

 

Aloha and welcome to Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Something remarkable is taking place in Ewa Beach, at James Campbell High School. Seven years ago, the school was known for gang and discipline problems. It posted some of the lowest test scores and highest drop-out rates in the state. Fewer than half its students were graduating. This year? The school says 99% of its seniors will earn diplomas. Test scores are way up. And Campbell High School is earning academic awards and accolades. What happened? We’re about to meet a petite and powerful agent of change named Gail Awakuni.

 

A veteran public school teacher and DOE administrator, Gail Awakuni became principal at Campbell High School just before the school year began in 2000. Within four years, she’d been named State Principal of the Year and went on to top national honors.

 

Pat Hamamoto, Schools Superintendent (at Campbell High School, Sept. 24, 2004)

“I would like to announce that Dr. Awakuni is the Nat’l. High School Principal of the Year 2004. Her vision was to create a school in which students would be welcomed, students would be cared for and students would go out with the knowledge and skills that they would need to be successful. And Dr. Awakuni, your principal, started with a plan and she actually put all this to action.”

 

She says no need to call her Doctor. Many of the students simply call her Miz. Gail Awakuni’s plan and actions have led to tremendous changes in attitudes and achievement at Campbell High School. Ten years ago, the school says 10% of its students went on to college. Now, more than 70% do. Seven years ago, 30 students took College Board Advanced Placement exams. This year, nearly 400 will. Let’s meet Gail Awakuni, the principal – and principal mover and shaker – of Campbell High School.

 

This is amazing, isn’t it? It’s like this explosion of success and achievement at Campbell in the last few years.

 

Few years; right.

 

Since you’ve been there. I need to explore this more with you. Because I know that there are lots of committed principals and other educators in our schools, and I know they’re knowledgeable, and I know they make use of opportunities. But you’ve been able to marshal so many things together to make this happen. What is it about you?

 

I don’t think it’s about me. It really is about the students and people at the school level who are willing to just put forth a lot of work and effort, and make the school better. And I think that’s the rallying point that we have, you know, going for us, where you take a negative reputation, and you turn that into something positive. And that has been, you know, our mantra. So whenever we have a setback, then we just—Okay, let’s move forward and move forward in how we’re gonna fix this to make it better. And we’re by no way a perfect school. You know, we have our share of problems, and we haven’t we haven’t fixed all of the problems in the community there, and I don’t think we ever will. But we do try to take one child at a time and try to help each child, or try to better the situation for them.

 

So what’s—

 

And we’re still working at it.

 

What’s the limit? Where does the gate on the achievement clang down?

 

I don’t think it ever ends. I think it’s a continuous, spiraling effect of continually trying to be better and improve. Once—I think like all civilizations, where they reach a point where they feel like they, they’ve reached it or, you know, have reached the point where they can just sit back and relax; and I think that’s when civilizations crumble again.

 

So you see no limits?

 

So there’s no limit. We just keep on moving forward, and keep on you know, improving what we’re doing.

 

What’s the toughest thing to change?

 

I think the toughest thing to change is changing mindsets and attitudes.

 

On the part of?

 

People.

 

Any person involved in the school?

 

Any person. I think that is the most difficult. Also, having people believe in themselves, and having confidence, developing the confidence to excel and to be the best that they can be. So everybody is their own worst enemy. Changing mindsets; that’s the most difficult.

 

Changing mindsets.

 

Mindsets. But you know, it’s possible when we see the successes. So everybody likes to see success and build on positive, positive results. And I think that’s the key; to look at the results, and keep on climbing and keep on working at those results, to see that we can better ourselves.

 

For students in the academic middle, Principal Gail Awakuni spearheaded the AVID program – offering Advancement Via Individual Determination. She also established Small Learning Communities – academies within the school which educate students along the pathways of their chosen careers.

 

We all talk about metrics, in business. The metrics, the measurements, the quantification of education; there are a lot of really encouraging signs and transformations at Campbell High School. What are some of them?

 

Well, we use the data to actually start our work. Because was our assessment and to see where we’re at, and how we’re gonna go, and where. And every time we the reason why I measured the growth was to encourage and motivate everybody to keep on going. Because when they say success breeds success, that really is true. Because with our little successes, that is how we grew, and it got bigger and bigger. And each time we were pleasantly surprised.

 

What caused that? What happened?

 

School wide reform. We decided to focus on the ninth grade, and we contracted Johns Hopkins University to help us.

 

Where’d you get the money to do that?

 

We used our school money from our Federal funds, as well as the State funding, and we wrote grants. Lots of grants, those beginning years. So we did start off with a planning grant, which was a Federal grant. And it took us a year to plan and make our plan what we were gonna do. And then the second year was implementation; then we went out and we got a small learning community implementation grant. So those monies helped to quick start us. We also had donations from the community; James Campbell Estate, for example, was you know, very much behind of us. They gave us a check for $150,000 to get started.

 

So you organized the school into small learning communities.

 

M-hm.

 

And what else?

 

And so we started the ninth grade, then we replicated the tenth grade academy. And the upperclassmen were the small learning communities into their electives. And we measured, and we watched the growth of our students. Also too, competitions help. So from the community there, as well as the Department of Education where there are State and National contests. Then we started preparing our students for these contests. And then when they started winning, that was an extremely strong motivator. For example, in 2004, when our math team won the statewide math bowl—

 

The first time a Leeward Oahu school had ever won the math bowl.

 

And also, first time for Campbell. And so that was you know, I think, one of the greatest incentives. It helped the students and the whole school to see, we can do it, and to forge forward, and each time they’re seeking you know, greater success or do better. It’s the measurement.

 

I want to know where this came from because clearly, there was your leadership at work. Where did you get this stuff? How did you set this transformation in place?

 

Well, it’s a lot of things going on, and I think we take a team of teachers as well as administrators to the mainland, where we go to national conferences, network with people. You know, outside of Hawaii.

 

So looking for ideas.

 

Looking for ideas, looking for research based models. Journals. Do a lot of reading.

 

‘Cause you only want something that’s proven.

 

Exactly. And then go on the internet and um, communicate through internet, find out more, and research these programs. We also do site visits. And so we visit schools and we see. And we go to schools of similar demographics as Campbell. And then we see how it’s operationalized, and we get a lot of help from people who have done it. For example, our international baccalaureate; we visited many schools, and we had curriculum leaders who had been doing it for twenty years successfully. And so they shared their curriculum, as well as their program and studies, and everything with us.

 

The transformative efforts at Campbell High are paying off – literally – for students. Over the last seven years, graduating seniors have brought in more and more scholarship money to fulfill dreams of college. Last year, scholarships amounted to $7.5 million. The school is introducing innovative programs like the International Baccalaureate Diploma. It’s an elite, college-prep program with an international focus. It’s designed to help students compete in a global society. And Gail Awakuni has every reason to be proud.

 

This is, you know, an accomplishment for us, because it’s your highest level of rigor. And so the teachers had to work really hard. And you have their lessons that are approved, as well as they’re given feedback from an international board. So when you look at standards and global education, it’s not limited to just Hawaii or not just, you know, the Department of Education in Hawaii. Whereas it’s international. And education is global today. So for the teachers to see what’s out there, as well as for our students; and we say, you know, there’s life beyond Renton Road, there’s life beyond Ewa Beach, there’s life beyond Hawaii, as well as even the United States now. They’re saying that you know, it’s international.

 

So you’ve raised the expectations for students and faculty.

 

And that’s really the bar. And so what it’s done was for the teachers to receive training as well as input, and feedback into the curriculum; then we backward map with the underclassmen and the other subject teachers, and everything else becomes aligned. So that now leads the staff development in the school, because they know what is the goal that they’re really trying to obtain, which is an international goal.

 

Okay, now; there’s something you’re leaving out here. Just implementing new programs doesn’t cause a rejuvenation, and it doesn’t get people excited. What else have you done?

 

I think for basically for the teachers, it’s you have to show them and prove to them that it can be done. So gradually, when we had the successes of our students, then more and more people get folded into and they want to be part of the excitement and the learning. For example, our incredible college and career counselor, as well as the setup that we have at our school with the aides and the helpers that she had too, each year, the scholarship amount doubled or tripled. It’s the first year, we had a goal of $1 million. And then we thought this was crazy; you know, that it would never happen. Because prior to that, we had scholarships of about $600,000. But each year, you know, they went out and they competed, and they—last year, the scholarship amount was $7.5 million.

 

So first, your staff competed to get scholarship money, and then your students—

 

The students—

 

–amped it up to get the scholarships.

 

Preparing the students for the scholarships as well as—there you go; competition, what’s out there. And so, looking and seeing what was needed. And then it was basically looking at the coursework, as well as the colleges now; what is it that students will need to be globally competitive.

 

So some of these students, they’ve never had anybody in their family go to college.

 

Right.

 

They don’t really know that they can succeed. But they are believers now that they can?

 

Absolutely. And we have a lot of first generation students going to college. And I think that’s you know, really the excitement that we see. And we have graduates coming back and telling us that—they’ll tell the parents that they’re earning more than their parents. That’s exciting.

 

And the parents like that to an extent, right?

 

The parents are you know, surprised too that they’ve done so well. And we’re very proud; very proud that they’ve done so well and gone on you know, to be successful.

 

So, great feeling of pride from your students.

 

So great feeling of pride. And they did want to, you know, turn the school around and help the—to them, it was we reached out into the community. So pride in the community, pride for themselves as the school.

 

How did you reach out into the community?

 

We had a Kellogg’s grant, and we reached out into the community by forming a nucleus committee, and we branched out and interviewed people in the community, asking them and getting feedback. What is it that you expected and wanted of the school? And so we had lists and lists of things that we grouped them. And that did not vary from what we had interviewed our teachers, as well as the support staff at our school. And so after we gathered that data, then we put it together, and then we made our plans and programs.

 

So you found that everybody really wanted the same thing.

 

Exactly. And so really, through the Kellogg’s grant and the National Network of Educational Renewal, through University of Washington, that helped us formalize—the mantra was, you know, the responsibility for education is everybody.

 

Team-oriented, results-oriented and positive. What motivates Gail Awakuni? Where do her ideas come from? Where did she come from?

 

You’re a product of the public schools?

 

Yes, I am. I’m a proud graduate of Kalani High School. I always tell the students that I’m from east side of Honolulu, and now I’m on the west side of Oahu.

 

Do they say they can’t relate to you ‘cause you’re an eastsider?

 

They call me a townie. Everybody teases me, and they call me a townie. But I said, Well, the way that Ewa is developing, that’s gonna be the future town of Oahu.

 

True. Well, what was your public school experience?

 

Well, I think that, as I recollect, and I compare past to now, I know that the public school is doing far more than what I’ve experienced. But it was always a very positive experience for me. I attended Kahala Elementary, then Kaimuki Intermediate, then Kalani, and UH system. So it’s been public education all the way.

 

And you never felt, Oh, gee, other folks have the chance to go to private school, but not me, I gotta go public?

 

Well, for us, it was not even a choice, because my parents couldn’t afford it, and they made it real clear that you know, they couldn’t afford it. So we just had to make the best of whatever we had. But I never felt.

 

But did you feel you were losing something?

 

No, I never felt that I was being shortchanged or anything. I still remember my teachers; they were you know, extremely caring. And I learned.

 

Although inspired by her teachers, Gail Awakuni didn’t plan on becoming one – until after she had finished college and started a family.

 

My mother told me to go into teaching. And of course, you know, being in college, I said, No, I’m not gonna listen to her, and then I majored in arts and science, and then it was, now what are you gonna do with this job. Because it’s either nursing or teaching. So I went back to school for teaching,

 

You not only went to school; you got a PhD.

 

Well, that just happened along the way. And it was just a matter of my daughter was going through chemotherapy; she was a leukemia patient at that time. So my friend had told me, I’ve got a wonderful program, just for you, to help you through this. And at that time, I got interested in public health. But at the same time, when I saw the impact of education with children, as well as families, where really, education is the key to even good health.

 

To even good health?

 

Good health. And so that’s when I felt that I needed to get back into teaching, and spread the word in that sense, where education really is the key to life.

 

So the hospital could have been aha moment for you to go into nursing, but instead, it sent you right back into education.

 

In teaching, you see hope and joy. And I think the hospital does that also. But at the same time, you see a lot of people go there when they have illness. Whereas in teaching, you see children, and you see bright smiles every day. And that’s what I felt. You know, I needed to be there, where I like to see bright smiles every day, and help people have hope and dreams, and be a part of creating that dream for them.

 

Did your daughter recover from leukemia?

 

My daughter recovered; she’s a leukemia survivor. And she’s planning to go into nursing today.

 

Oh, that’s interesting.

 

I had some great, great moments as a teacher. And when I moved into administration, I felt that here would be a way that I probably could impact more, and really do what I felt that we could help more students. And it goes back to what I had felt at the hospital; that it’s bringing access to people, and opening more doors, because really, education is the key. Being able to read and write, compute, think, ask questions, you know, those were key. And again, it’s how to reach a larger group of individuals, so that they—we always tell parents, you know, Education here, this is your life. And what we want for you and your child would be the best opportunity, so that you go out and have a good quality of life. And really, we’re here to help and to do.

 

Gotta ask you a question that you might not like. You’re a graduate of the public school system. You have been employed by the public system. And yet, you chose to send a couple of your children to private school.

 

M-hm. I think I’ve sent two to private and one went through the public school system. And I would say that, you know, I’ve learned from sending them to private school, as well as I think that I’ve brought some of those ideas with me, to the public sector, so that we can make our school just as good as a private school. ‘Cause I believe that access, you know, that everybody should have access. And I’d like to make Campbell, you know, just as good as a private school, so that parents will have a choice. And those who can’t afford a private education can have just as good an education at Campbell High School or in a public school. And I think, you know, it’s a lot of guidance from home that is necessary, and again, looking at the needs of the individual and finding the best fit.

 

You’ve seen some of the private schools, you’ve seen the public schools. You really think you can even things out?

 

I think we can. And that’s what we’re trying to do at Campbell. It’s really networking, and taking that and trying to make things, you know, better. And even when we were interviewed at Campbell with the international baccalaureate committee, you know, the question was, Why Campbell? And Superintendent Hamamoto said, Why not Campbell? You know, and that’s what it is; why not? And so we could have just as much, and do just as well as any private school.

 

Indeed. Why not? Here at PBS Hawaii, we get to share stories of discovery and diversity, of local, community interest. Like this one – of Campbell High School’s growing culture of high expectations and achievement. Mahalo to Gail Awakuni, and to you, for joining me for another Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Until next week, a hui hou kakou!

 

Pat Hamamoto / Schools Superintendent (at Campbell High School, Sept. 24, 2004)

“Dr. Awakuni has brought recognition to the school through you. So you helped her realize her vision. And you are her vision. In addition to that, this past year, Dr. Awakuni also received the Tokioka Award for outstanding school principal. When they asked her, What are you going to do if we give you $15,000? Her answer was, she would give it to the school to start the AVID Program. So whatever she gets it goes back to the school. So your principal has been not only a person with vision, but she’s also a person who made that vision come alive. And she made that vision a reality.”