A Real Asset for Keiki

Head of school Ryan Masa and a group of keiki test out the new Transforming Lives Center at Assets School.

Part of the charm of the soon-to-be-open Transforming Lives Center at Assets School is that it not only o~ ers comprehensive learning assessments to its own students, but to nonstudents as well.

Back in 1955, the early iteration of Assets School embarked on a mission to help a specific subset of the population: young military children with developmental challenges. Knowing it could do more for its island community, the school altered its mission over the years to also serve students with learning differences and gifted children all the way up to high school. Then, a couple of years ago, the school rewrote its mission statement once again, this time to include advocacy and outreach for the community at large — and part of that revamp is the new Transforming Lives Center, slated to open later this month.

The aptly named resource center at the school’s K-8 campus offers comprehensive assessments for children facing difficulties in traditional learning environments, as well as those struggling in the classroom after pandemic-era distance learning.

Ryan Masa stands in front of Assets School’s Transforming Lives Center, which is slated to open later this month at the K-8 campus.

“It’s elevating the work that we already do,” explains head of school Ryan Masa, who notes that Assets has been doing free literacy screenings, program development for teachers and parent workshops for decades now.

To that end, the Transforming Lives Center is not just for students who attend Assets — it’s open to everyone — and that’s for good reason. The campus is serving about 340 students this school year, but statistics show that an average of 1 in 5 kids learn differently.

“Then, you’re talking about tens of thousands in the state,” adds Masa. “With the Transforming Lives Center, we’ve been focused on what we can do to help those kids, knowing they’re not all going to come to Assets.”

Parents and their kids who visit the Transforming Lives Center can gain access to screenings or full assessments that result in a diagnosis, though Masa points out that it’s important not to get caught up in the verdict. The diagnosis, he explains, is merely a foundational stepping stone to figuring out what kinds of tools works for the student.

“Parent intuition is really strong,” Masa says. “Parents know something is going on before anyone else does. They might not be able to name it, but they know and trust that intuition.

“And it doesn’t have to be a child failing. It could be someone seeing their really bright child not reaching their full potential or are underachieving in a way and have questions about that.”

At the heart of the Transforming Lives Center is clinical director Dr. Elsa Lee, a neural psychologist, who has more than a decade of experience in psychology and its related fields, as well as a supervised group of post-doc/graduate students and interns. When the idea for the Transforming Lives Center came about, Assets and its partners discussed a mutually beneficial model that would help families and future mental health care providers.

“It’s a win, win, win,” Masa says. “Assets gets to advance its mission and these grad students get a really great training site and can learn under the supervision of Dr. Lee. We get to help the next generation of psychologists train and not only do assessments but also sit with parents and go over results with them. And by using this model, we help make testing affordable for families.”

Offerings will be robust, ranging from ADHD and dyslexia screenings to more comprehensive exams like psycho-educational assessments — basically anything and everything to meet a child where they’re at and

help them learn to the best of their ability. If there are gaps in a student’s learning, the center is there to help figure out why.

“It’s really individualized, and we look at it holistically,” Masa says. “We listen to the people on that child’s team — parents, teachers, etc. — and be a detective, providing assessments that will give more answers. Once we have that, we can start helping that team and build a road map of success for the child.”

When a child learns differently, their family goes on that journey with them, and Masa notes that many turn to Assets during times of high stress and frustration when they feel a sense of guilt or shame at the circumstance.

“Parents will ask what they did wrong, and we tell them they didn’t do anything wrong; there’s nothing wrong with your child,” he says. “We don’t fix kids because they’re not broken.”

And that’s the magic of Assets, and, by extension, its Transforming Lives Center. The educational model looks at each child as an individual and provides personalized instruction and tools to help them succeed.

“It’s about understanding, acceptance and affirmation because we’re all different,” he adds. “The spice of life is that we’re not all the same. Diversity is a good thing. We talk about these challenges we face as a society, and we need people who think about the world differently. People who learn different are really innovative.”

To train up the state’s future innovators, children who are part of the Assets ‘ohana are equipped with the tools to take control of their learning and the assurance that they’re not alone.

“When you talk about resources for families and kids who learn differently, there aren’t many in Hawai‘i,” Masa says.

“For these kids, they’re marginalized, draw inaccurate conclusions about themselves; they’ve been given negative feedback or they look at classmates and see how they’re not matching up. To be part of an organization that helps them see themselves for how they truly are and help them find their tribe, that’s the part of my job I love.”

For more information, visit assets-school.org; and to inquire about a Transforming Lives Center assessment, email appointment@assets-school.org.