Art And Heart Of Education

By Mollie Sperry
Wednesday - May 25, 2005
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Head of School Mollie Sperry with (from left) AOP art
instructor Mark Maresca and student artists Andrew
McDonald, Kelly Matsunaga and Patty Miller-Ho

Exactly one year ago, I took the helm at Academy of the Pacific.

You may not have heard of this school. Founded in 1948, in many ways it remains one of Hawaii’s best-kept secrets. Of course, having worked in Hawaii’s education system on both Oahu and the Big Island since 1970, I certainly knew of AOP. But I was not prepared for how, in just 12 short months, this tiny, intimate high school nestled in Alewa Heights would work its way into my heart.

This is a school with a very special niche. Academy of the Pacific provides a nurturing, personalized educational experience that addresses each student’s unique needs and abilities unmet in conventional classrooms. By providing a regular education program within a small classroom environment, AOP challenges students to expand their boundaries, recognize their innate potential and develop into responsible and contributing citizens.

In short, this is an “outside the box” kind of place. Academy of the Pacific is blessed with a surprisingly peaceful campus above downtown Honolulu. Our facility is a cluster of cottage classrooms that make up a “village of learning.”

However, the most important ingredient in the tailored education of our middle and high schoolers is the faculty. Study after study shows that the key to student learning is the caring and capable teacher. Students learn better when they feel safe and nurtured. In any interview, our students agree, “At AOP, the teachers know us, listen to us and care. That’s the difference.” Our faculty celebrates the individual. They work with each student’s personal strengths, guiding them on a path to their own success.

AOP’s average class size of just 10 students sets up the opportunity for teachers to make the greatest impact and build effective mentoring relationships. We know that education is more than the transfer of knowledge; it is also about building self-esteem, interpersonal skills, and critical and caring thinking.

The challenge for AOP — and for all independent schools in Hawaii — is to honor teachers with a respectable salary and give them collegial time to plan,

prepare, evaluate and train. At a small, tuition-based school such as ours, it is the biggest business challenge we have. We are always looking for outside sources of funding and thankful to various foundations that help serve our student community.

Our annual gala fund-raising event, slated for June 24 at Oahu Country Club, serves this year to both honor an inspirational former teacher and to raise that critical outside money. “An Evening for Pu‘u ‘O Hoku” will recognize Peggy Chun, former AOP art teacher, who impacted students throughout her life: from teaching, to managing her art career, to her current battle with ALS.

Peggy taught at AOP before we had moved to our current beautiful campus and improved facilities. Undaunted by simple means, she persevered and reached out to students.

I will always believe that the heart of education is the teacher, pumping life into the curriculum and touching the lives of students forever.

Peggy Chun is one such heart. Her legacy continues with another local artist, Mark Maresca, teaching art to AOP students and making a difference in their lives.

On June 24, we’ll honor Peggy. And in our hearts, we’ll also honor every AOP teacher, and teachers everywhere, for the heart that they bring to this business of education.

For information or to reserve tickets to “An Evening for Pu‘u ‘O Hoku” honoring Peggy Chun, call Academy of the Pacific at 595-6359.

Next week: Ron Montgomery,, Vice President and General Manager, Hawaiian Telcom Directories


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