RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
When public schools consolidate, the affect on communities can be devastating. And in the United States, rural school consolidation has been going on for more then a hundred years. In our ongoing series about one room schools, producer Neenah Ellis takes us this month to Hawaii, to a remote community on the East side of Maui where the state's last one room school closed this past fall. The school fell victim to nationwide push to raise test scores and a statewide push to save money.
NEENAH ELLIS reporting:
The decision was an insult to the village of Ke'anae. Most of the few hundred people here are native Hawaiian, and they have been fighting the school closure, for the children's sake, they said, and to keep their community alive. The Ke'anae school is long, low and painted green, with a tin roof and a deep porch. Sit here in a bench and you can see the ocean.
Florence Harold was the last teacher. She still has keys to the classroom. In a cool, dark room, shelves bloom above full of old books. Last year, Florence Harold wanted to replace them, but people complained.
Ms. FLORENCE HAROLD (Teacher, Ke'anae School): You can't do that. Why, I said, you know. Our grandfathers and our grandmothers read these books. You cannot get rid of it.
ELLIS: Florence Harold kept the books, even as she suspected that the school would close last year. She had only three students, none older than third grade. Today, she has come to retrieve some of their artwork still taped to the wall.
Ms. HAROLD: In fact, these last two weeks is what I had them do. They drew their memories of the school.
ELLIS: Why did you do that?
Ms. HAROLD: Because it represented the last things with the last students for something that was meaningful. Now, who is going to come after them?
ELLIS: She doesn't know what she will do with these tender drawings of palm trees, rainbows, seagulls, and mountains.
The Ke'anae peninsula is in the East Maui rainforest. It is connected to the touristy parts of West Maui by a notorious two-lane highway that slices across sheer cliffs and over streams fed by horsetail water fall, on the slopes of a volcano called Haleakala.
Mr. DARRYL TAU-AU(ph) (Resident, Hawaii): This is one of the very few areas today where you still can live the old Hawaiian style. You live off the land.
ELLIS: Darryl Tau-au lives in Ke'anae village, on family land by the ocean. The Tau-au family goes way in East Maui. Darryl went to school here, and so did his friend. Steven Houokano(ph), who has recently returned to his home community.
Mr. STEVEN HOUOKANO (Resident, Hawaii): The whole East side pretty much related. Every Hawaiian if you ask where on Maui, we all link up to this place. We're all family, supposed to be.
(Soundbite of music)
ELLIS: A community festival called Aho Lau Laia(ph) held to raise money for scholarships. Even Houokano and other young people have come home to Ke'anae to grow taro, a root crop that dates back 1,500 years. Taro is symbolic to Hawaiians, and because it is cultivated here on land owned by native people, Ke'anae is a link to what's called the old Hawaiian style of life.
But people can't live off the land anymore. Most of them drive more than an hour to work in West Maui. There are few jobs here, and all the problems that com with that, substance abuse, disease, obesity, family dysfunction. Because the Ke'anae School has closed, the school bus comes to the village at 6:15 a.m. to pick up the kids.
Earl Medeiros(ph) drives them an hour down the highway to the town of Hana.
Mr. EARL MEDEIROS (Bus Driver): Most of these kids have missed school due to landslides, or trees falling across the road and we cannot pass. So I got to take them back. And when it's foggy, it can get really bad. We are struggling to see 20 feet in front of you.
ELLIS: Hana School has 300 mostly native Hawaiian students, K through 12. Rick Paul is the principal of Hana School and Ke'anae. He is not from East Maui, and this is only his second year. It was his decision to move the Ke'anae kids. His office is here in Hana where he has got big challenges.
Mr. RICK PAUL (Principal, Hana School and Ke'anae School): We are a school that's in restructuring under No Child Left Behind. And we are restructuring the school because of our test results. We haven't made adequate progress for six years. And we needed to have as much staffing as we could here. So if I moved the children here and the extra position, it would help this school.
So part of my decision had to do with bringing Hana School out of restructuring.
ELLIS: There were other issues too, but ultimately, Rick Paul felt like he had no choice.
Ms. JANET REDO(ph)(Resident, Ke'anae, Hawaii): It's closing down the community. Hello, Mr. Paul. That's hwy I'm very upset with Mr. Paul.
ELLIS: Janet Redo's grandchildren were among the last students at the school.
Ms. REDO: He told us he would come back and we would have another community meeting, but it never happened.
ELLIS: Eileen Lee also had grandchildren at the school. She sees what's happening as cultural genocide, and she is not alone.
Ms. EILEEN LEE (Resident, Hawaii): The are all native Hawaiian kids, and you are going to bus them one to hour and one hour back. You might as well apply for well, because you are going to kill their spirits, and by the time they are in eighth grade, they won't want to go to school. It's so frustrating you cannot fight city hall. They're going to kill the town anyway. What's make a town? What makes a little village?
We have no heart now. The school was the heart where we had our potluck dinners and get-together for the kids. Now there is nothing.
ELLIS: It would be nice to say that the closing of the school galvanized the community and moved them to action. But there are fractures here, anger and resignation.
There is talk of starting a charter school, but just making a living takes so much time. A handful of Ke'anae folks gather at the school on Sunday morning to worship and look for strength in the same room where the children drew pictures so future generations would remember.
For NPR News, I'm Neena Ellis.
MONTAGNE: More of America's one-room schools are at NPR.org. This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News, I'm Renee Montagne.
INSKEEP: And I'm Steve Inskeep.