Archive for September 2019

Hawaii’s promises to students

September 24, 2019

In September 2019, the Hawaii Department of Education (HIDOE) released a draft version of strategic plan for the next ten years, based on 83 community sessions across the islands. The HIDOE’s vision is “a Hawai‘i where students are educated, healthy, and joyful lifelong learners who contribute positively to our community and global society.”

The “2030 Promise Plan Phase 1 Report” answers three fundamental questions: What do we value in a PK-12 educational experience? How do we measure what we really value? How do we support each child to experience success?

The deadline to comment on the Plan has already passed, but I spent a Sunday afternoon reading through the five promises to students:

  1. Hawai‘i. Students will be educated within a public school system that is grounded in HĀ, powers a multilingual society, and honors Hawai‘i’s local and global contribution.
  2. Equity. Students will experience strong relationships and supports that mitigate disempowering differences to enable them to thrive academically, socially, and civically.
  3. School Design. Students will be immersed in excellent learning environments that are thoughtfully designed around a community’s power to contribute to a thriving, sustainable Hawai‘i.
  4. Empowerment. Students will develop their authentic voices as contributors to equity, excellence, and innovation by providing input on what, how, and where they learn.
  5. Innovation. Students will engage in rigorous, technology-rich, problem-solving learning that enables them to solve authentic community challenges and develop pathways to goals.

There were an overwhelming number of Action Opportunities to aspire to, and there’s work to be done to prioritize those opportunities.

In the next 1-2 years, the opportunity that I think has great value is to “Increase the presence of community members and kupuna on school campuses to serve as teachers and models in creating a climate of inclusivity, respect, and aloha” (Equity). It would strengthen relationships between communities and schools, as well as kupuna and keiki; and it wouldn’t cost a lot of money to implement.

In the next 3-5 years, the opportunity that I think would be really valuable for high school students is to “Develop internship or apprenticeship opportunities with local businesses for students to gain real-world experience” (Innovation). It would better prepare students for the job market and networking, while helping businesses identify and mentor talented youth.

If I could add one Action Opportunity, I would suggest creating a Leadership Institute for Parents and Guardians. The draft plan supports parents in three main ways: workshops, school selection, and communication/surveys. Parents are vital to PK-12 education – students spend just 18.5% of their time awake at school (6 hours of classroom time, 180 school days per year) and 81.5% of their time awake out of school, mainly with their families. Schools can become hubs for parenting support groups, leadership cohorts, and mentoring by kupuna.

Which Action Opportunities in the 2030 Promise Plan resonate with you? What one educational opportunity do you wish you had? How would it have made your school years more engaging and inspiring?

Telling our origin stories

September 17, 2019

Every superhero has an origin story. Superman came to Earth from a dying planet and chose to use his powers to protect those who are weaker. Wonder Woman chose to leave her idyllic home and fight against evil. Captain America volunteered for a dangerous, experimental procedure to stand against injustice. Whether or not they were born with their powers, they are heroes by choice.

I’ve been thinking about origin stories recently, because of a keynote speech by Lisa Miller, PhD, the director of clinical psychology at Columbia University and author of “The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving.”

During her presentation, Miller shared her experience about trying to conceive a child and then adopting her son, Isaiah.

When he was young, she told him that they traveled by plane, train, and automobile to find him.

When he was older, instead of their journey to find him, she told Isaiah that he traveled down a river to reach them, just like Baby Moses.

When he was eight, Isaiah’s friend told him that Miller was not his real mother. Then Isaiah told his own origin story about his birth mother to Miller: “God whispered in her ear and said that you were crying for me.”

The story I grew up with is that my dad and mom weren’t together anymore, but everyone in my family wanted me. So my aunt, grandparents, and parents raised me, and I might have been a little spoiled.

And then there is the origin story that I told my 13-year old son when he was growing up. He was eager to be born, and I would whisper, “I’m so glad you chose us.” I don’t know why that’s the story I told him; looking back, I think I was trying to teach him that it is a choice, not chance, to be a family.

Societies need their own origin stories too. In Hawai‘i, the Kumukipo is the story of our birth, our family, our ancestors, and our place in the world. There was a time when others tried to re-write Hawai‘i’s history. Native Hawaiians today are still trying to reclaim their stories.

What is your origin story? What story do you tell about your birth or childhood? How does it affect who you are today?

Suicide Prevention Month: It’s okay to ask for help

September 10, 2019

One morning, a woman called the office, crying. She asked for the phone number to a suicide hotline. I tried to stay calm as I gave her two phone numbers she could call.

I didn’t know if she needed the hotline for herself or a loved one. I don’t know if she received the help she needed. I may never know how things turned out. And she may never know how she changed me.

Because of this woman, and this moment when she reached out for help, I started paying more attention to suicide awareness and prevention.

In Hawaii, suicide is the leading cause of injury-related death. There are an average of 190 deaths by suicide a year and an additional 910 nonfatal attempts, according to the Hawaii Department of Health’s EMS and Injury Prevention System Branch.


September is suicide prevention and awareness month, and today – September 10 – is World Suicide Prevention Day. Today, and all month long, survivors, families, community members, and mental health advocates and organizations are coming together to promote suicide prevention awareness.

Here are a few ways you can help make a difference:

* Find out about suicide risk factors by downloading a fact sheet, Risk of Suicide, from The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

* Learn how to talk to someone who may be thinking about suicide or who need someone to talk to. #BeThe1To shares the 5 Steps for talking with someone who may be thinking about suicide.

* Write about suicide in a way that helps reduce the risk of suicide contagion (exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors that can result in an increase in suicide or suicidal behaviors) – and include stories of hope and recovery. free guide for reporter, bloggers, and anyone who comments about suicide on social media.

* Walk in support of suicide awareness and prevention. On September 14, 2019 join the Out of the Darkness Walk in Honolulu or on September 28, 2019 in Kahului with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Hawaii. On October 12, 2019, join the NAMIWalks in Honolulu and Hilo.

*  Donate to your local crisis center, AFSP Hawaii, NAMI Hawaii, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

For more ideas about how to take action, download a free toolkit from The Suicide Prevention Resource Center has a free toolkit with ideas to take action.


If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), text 741741 ALOHA, or call 911 immediately.

“Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah

September 7, 2019

“Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood” (2016) by comedian Trevor Noah is a series of autobiographical essays about growing up in South Africa, the product of an illegal relationship between a white man and a black woman, according to the 1927 Immorality Act. Personal stories alternate with essays about apartheid and institutionalized racism.

Noah reflects on the women holding the community together, language defining who you are to people, personal identity, choosing the people in your life, and growing up with domestic violence.

“The genius of apartheid was convincing people who were the overwhelming majority to turn on each other… You separate people into groups and make them hate one another so you can run them all.”

Noah was born in 1984 in Eden Park, a suburb outside Johannesburg, his childhood filled with church, no TV/movies, riots in the streets, violence, militarized streets, guns, and tear gas. There was sharp divide between black, white, and colored, and Noah seemed to drift along the edges of all these communities, tolerated because he learned to speak their languages.

He was raised by Patricia Nombuyielo Noah, a religious black mother who wanted someone to love and was determined to make a better life for her son – but who couldn’t walk in the street holding his hand.

“I’ve got dozens of pictures of me walking with this woman who looks like me but who isn’t my mother. And the black woman standing behind us who looks like she’s photobombing the picture, that’s my mom.” She was a rebel who challenged authority and refused to conform, running away from home and living in the streets as a young woman. She taught Trevor to think and prepared him for a life of freedom even before the end of apartheid.

His father Robert was secretive and reserved, a Swiss ex-pat who wanted to be a part of his life, but couldn’t be seen in public with him either. When Noah reunites with his father after years apart, he learns “But he’d been with me the whole time.” His parents’ stable influence is juxtaposed with the attitude and actions of his stepfather Abel, a talented mechanic who could be charming, but who drank too much and became mean and violent – and who later shot his mother in the head.

Noah grew into a mischievous, house-burning (at age 7, he burned down a white family’s shed and house by accident!), head-strong, bootleg CD-burning businessman, who was able to stay away from drugs and gangs. “I never let the memory of something painful prevent me from trying something new.”

“Born a Crime” is a really engaging and perceptive book that kept me reading. The humorous and optimistic tone prevents the book from being depressing and bleak. It showed me a world of poverty (no bathrooms, a poor person’s food of worms, lack of opportunities) and uncertainty (minibus drivers, gangs, police).

Though he lived in poverty, he says, “I never felt poor because our lives were so rich with experience.”

Strengthening spirituality in children

September 3, 2019

Recently, I attended an annual conference whose theme was “Adaptive Change.” Lisa Miller, PhD, the director of clinical psychology at Columbia University and author of “The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving,” was an inspiring keynote speaker who made me think about how I am raising my 13-year old son.

Miller talked about the importance of spirituality in children, for both protective and constructive factors, based on scientific research. Here are some highlights from her presentation:

We are born spiritual beings. Children are born with an innate capacity for spirituality. Around the world, there is a universal global spirituality that involves feelings of interconnectedness, practices that strengthen feeling of connection (such as prayer and meditation), principles of altruism and service, and following a moral code. It is about feeling part of a greater whole. Spirituality does not have to involve religion or even a belief in a higher power.

Spirituality is awakened through rites of passage and relationships. Major life events like puberty, birth, death, and suffering can be opportunities for spiritual awakening. Often, a child’s path to spirituality is through a family member or faith community. Miller pointed out that young children believe in live after death and are comfortable talking about death, unless socialized otherwise.

Spirituality has protective benefits. For children, having a spiritual core is 80% protective against substance abuse, 60% protective against major depressive disorder, and, in girls, 70% protective against sexual risk-taking. Young adults with a spiritual core are less likely to be depressed later in life.

Spirituality has constructive benefits. Looking at brain scans, people with a spiritual core have increased processing power (measured by cortical thickness). In addition, felt pain (the experience of harm) may be reduced, leading to greater resilience.

Inviting people to your guidance table. Miller guided us through an amazing meditation for children and adults. Envision a table and invite those who love you unconditionally to sit at the table. Invite your best, highest self. Invite your higher power. When they are seated at the table, ask them if they love you. Then ask them what they would like to tell you.

Her keynote made me consider the importance of rites of passage in my son’s life, beyond birthdays or school graduation. It made me think about how I could start a spiritual conversation with my son.

Did you grow up with a spiritual family? What spiritual practices do you teach your children or grandchildren? Who would you invite to your guidance table?