Featured Community May 21

A whole child approach begins with teacher-student connections: an Along school story in Hawaii

The term “ho’āla” in Hawaiian means “to awaken.” For Celeste Akiu, a school leader at Holy Family Catholic Academy (HFCA) in Honolulu, it’s essentially a mantra she lives by in her daily work. 

“Ho’āla is a philosophy in Hawaii about the awakening of one’s self,” said Akiu. “I have always felt in my heart, as a teacher, and as a community member, that we all need a sense of self and a sense of belonging. We need to find ways for every individual to be fulfilled. That’s been my guiding light. I want every child to have a sense of belonging and a sense of who they are as an individual.”

At HFCA, which serves preschool through 8th-grade students, Akiu works with her staff to create a caring community that prioritizes the whole child. While academic excellence is at the core of their classrooms, she said that school is “not just all about the learning. When children feel invisible or that they are not heard, the learning doesn’t happen. You need to have connections.”

So when Akiu learned about Along, the teacher-student connection builder, she recognized that the tool could help her create a culture of community and individual awakening on her campus. 

Coming together as a staff to get to know students

At the start of this year, Akiu introduced Along to the staff with a very clear objective: knowing students helps create engagement in the classroom and connects teachers more directly with each child.

“I was very clear on my ‘why’ because teachers don’t want to get behind just any ‘new flavor of the month,’” recalled Akiu. “I shared my hopes and the intention of using Along. And I felt this would be such a great journey for us.”

Teachers throughout HFCA—mainly in the upper elementary and middle school classrooms—began regularly using Along during the first semester and continue to build on their success in the second half of the school year. 

Fourth grade educator Alyssa Soto-Gelacio shares an Along question with her students at least once a week, sometimes focused on tie-ins to academic lessons or sometimes related to social-emotional topics.

“One of my students barely talks in class, but she will put things in Along,” said Soto-Gelacio. “This helps me to understand what she likes and what she is struggling with. Along helps them to get things off their chest in a healthy way. The students really like it and I learn more about them. And, it is a good way to let them know that I’m another resource for them and that they can come talk to me.”

Akiu added that the teachers at HFCA are “really appreciating and enjoying the opportunities they are having doing these conversations with kids. When they see the responses [in Along], there’s an aha of, ‘wow, I’m reading what they are writing!” Many are finding that their students are using video, and they weren’t expecting that. It’s really a wonderful way to reflect and grow together.”

Flexibility to customize connections

One of the benefits of using Along at HFCA has been the ability to connect around topics of concern within each classroom or to customize a question when needed.

“The questions in Along don’t feel canned or generic. It’s not like pulling a question card out of a box,” shared Akiu. “And they like being able to also tailor a question to whatever is being experienced in a classroom. If there’s a class where there’s a lot of bickering, they can talk about it on Along. And teachers are appreciating the flexibility of being able to see the student responses without hauling around a ton of papers.”

In addition to viewing and responding to Along questions one-on-one within the platform, some HFCA teachers are also finding the content library helps them connect during classroom circles or morning meetings. By using a question as part of a whole class discussion, teachers can talk with all of their students about life skills and specific topics of interest or even check their understanding of academic units. 

“One teacher shared with me that it’s actually really relaxing to read through responses [on Along] and ‘hear’ their students’ voices,” said Akiu. “And I hear students asking each other about Along too, like ‘Oh, I did this on Along. Did you?’ It’s a win win.”

Do you have an Along story to share with the educator community? We’d love to highlight how teachers and students are connecting at your school! Reach out to media@gradientlearning.org to share. 

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