A Light Shines On St. Theresa School

St. Theresa School (from left) teacher Wendy Castillo, principal Mary Jean Buza-Sims and parent Janet Goding in the school’s computer lab. Coco Zickos photo

St. Theresa School in Kekaha has been tapped to be a Renaissance Lighthouse School, which means an enhanced learning environment for its students

St. Theresa School in Kekaha is charging into the 21st century by becoming more technologically savvy. The Catholic parish school, which instructs children from preschool to eighth grade, was awarded an opportunity to become a Renaissance Lighthouse School earlier this year in order to enhance its students’ learning experiences.

The Renaissance Learning Inc. school improvement and matching grant program provides students and teachers with technological advancements that aid in the development of the children’s educational skills in subjects such as math, reading, writing and typing. Some of the many ways in which the curriculum teaches students is by providing classrooms with flat-screen projectors with capabilities that include connecting to the Internet and allowing keiki to use them as chalk-boards. Students also are equipped with individual computer systems called NEOs that they can use to practice and test their skills.

“This program really allows the parents to see the progress of their children, where they’re headed, and it really does bring 21st century learning all the way out here to Kekaha,” says Janet Goding, parent of preschool student Sydney.

St. Theresa students Griffin (front) and Grant Parker use the NEO computer system

St. Theresa School principal Mary Jean Buza-Sims is grateful for the grants and a significant donation from The Parker Group that allowed the program to happen. The Kekaha native and St. Theresa School alumna says she is already encouraged with the program’s results as test scores continue to climb. Learning has accelerated, and the new system is carefully keeping track of where they’re going.

At the end of three years, if St. Theresa meets all testing requirements, it will be officially a Renaissance Lighthouse School.

“That means every teacher has to be a champion in their own right,” she says.

Junior high teacher Wendy Castillo loves using the new equipment and says her students are progressing academically with the advanced technology. She notes that the lessons are really catered to each individual student’s needs, which make it that much more impactful.

Student Ky Paronjao works with one of the school’s interactive maps. Janet Goding photos

“For the teacher, they can really get on top of what the student needs right away,” says Buza-Sims.

“They know exactly where their proficiencies are and where they are not, and ultimately zero in on what they need,” adds Goding.

Because teachers went from instructing students as a class to highly individualized programs, it took a while for them to become acclimated and work out the kinks in the beginning. But after training in August, the program officially kicked into high gear in January and has been burgeoning ever since.

“We want to become a model school in Hawai‘i,” says Buza-Sims, “so that people will be knocking at our doors and incorporate this in their school if possible, or segments of it.”

“We want to move this school forward,” says Goding. “This is a wonderful addition to our Westside community.”