HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The most inspirational of undertakings at Hawaii’s schools don’t just impact an educational experience ― they change an entire culture.
Students at Ala Wai Elementary School have committed to do just that.
“Today I pledge to not bully and be kind to others, no matter what. I pledge to be compassionate and help others in need.”
It’s a pledge that the 4th grade students at Ala Wai Elementary recite every morning. Every voice is loud, every head is held high, and it’s obvious that the students really mean what they’re saying.
The pledge was written by one of their classmates as a class project.
“Going back to the beginning of the school year, I asked the kids 2 questions,” explains teacher Lori Kwee. “What are they curious about, and what are they most interested in learning.”
The students responded that they wanted to study bullying, because most of them had been victims.
Many of them shared their stories, and as they did, two of their classmates admitted to being bullies. And after hearing the pain they caused, they apologized to the class.
Mia Mauricio remembers it well.
“I was shocked, because no one’s like that brave to do that. Cause like, it’s like having all these rocks on your shoulders and like having all the rain wash it off," she said. “So I was kinda proud of him to do that.”
“The victims then were unsure," Mrs. Kwee added. "They were upset. They wanted revenge, retaliation, and together they discussed wow, they realized they could become bullies too. But they have the choice.”
They chose to forgive. But that’s not all.
The topic of bullying became the inspiration for different projects. They wrote books about bullying, and read books about bullying.
They studied emotion, learning why students hurt others and the feeling that encourage them to do so. This one topic hit on everything, from literature to STEM subjects.
“In science, the students participated in the Honolulu engineering fair and created a survey: How does anger affect the mind? How does anger affect the body?" Mrs. Kwee said. "So you’re looking at physical reactions, how the body deals with that. They did surveys, got results, and they shared it out at the district fair, earning grade scores and recognition for their product.”
Then, the students took that knowledge and did two things with it.
First they used it to help themselves and their classmates.
“I take 10 deep breaths when I get angry,” says Russell Kinere, as he fills his lungs with air and lets out a big sigh. “So I tell myself to calm down. Then I say count to 10 and then I (sighs) and it all works my body, more better.”
Then they took it a step further.
“Students feel more confident,” said Mrs. Kwee. “They feel motivated. They feel enthused to really care about each other and care about not only each other in the class but also in the bigger community. With that comes that desire. You want to share it with everyone in the world. They feel that they can be life changers.”
Students have already shared what they’ve learned with lawmakers at the state capitol. They also want to expand their project to reach other schools, and may create YouTube videos to spread their message.
For her efforts, Mrs. Kwee has been named one of 5 national finalists for the LifeChanger of the Year award ― out of more than 830 nominees.
But she credits her students with being the real voices of change.