I have read stories and heard talk that our public school system is broken and is not working for students, educators and families. As a public school senior at Kailua High, I disagree and want to clear up this assumption that is too often made by critics and the media.

Never have I had a moment in my public school career where I felt I was not adequately prepared and educated.

Growing up in Waimanalo, my family did not have much. My parents came to Hawaii from the Philippines in search of a better life and a shot at the American dream. I attended Waimanalo Elementary and Intermediate School, where my teachers gave me a strong foundation and taught me the importance of hard work.

Kailua High School, where the author serves as student body president.
Kailua High School, where the author serves as student body president. 

In fifth grade, my classmates and I were tasked with doing a speech about President Abraham Lincoln. I was nervous about this assignment. As a 10-year-old, the thought of speaking in front of the class was overwhelming. My teacher, Ms. Gibbons, coached me through the process of researching and practicing my speech over and over. I worked hard on this project, and by the time I had to share my speech, I was proud and excited to show my classmates what I had accomplished. It was one of many lessons in perseverance and hard work that I would experience over the years.

There were tests, quite a few of them. I received my first standardized test in the second grade. With each grade, the load and demand for standardized testing increased.

While there has been a lot of discussion about testing among teachers and education experts, one voice has been left out — that of the students. The Hawaii State Student Council has talked about it, and most of us agree that testing is an important factor in getting into top colleges.

At first, I did not realize the value of testing, but as I got older, I noticed a shift for my teachers, such as the way they taught or the way they ran a classroom. The data collected from these tests helped them to evaluate what worked, and how to tailor their lessons to accommodate the varying academic levels in their own classroom. The data also helped measure us against our peers on a national and international level. We were able to see where we stacked up and how we can improve to become competitive as we apply for college.

However, my public school experience wasn’t just about testing or grades. I also made the most of my time in school through extracurricular activities.

At Kailua High, I was given the opportunity to serve as the student body president. I took this leadership position not just to serve my school and do my part in making a difference, but also to help me develop the skills and relationships needed for a career in public service.

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to represent Hawaii for the United States Senate Youth Program. I was honored to be one of two public schools students selected to represent our state, and I do not think this would have happened without the support and encouragement from my teachers and administrators.

Whether at Waimanalo Elementary and Intermediate or Kailua High, I was given many opportunities to succeed and make a difference in my school and community. While I cannot say that our public schools are the best or perfect, I do know that my experience in this system has prepared me for life after high school, and for that I am grateful.

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About the Author

  • Zachary Espino
    Zachary Espino attends Kailua High School and serves as its student body president. He also serves as the Hawaii State Student Council vice chairperson and is involved with his school's National Honor Society, formerly serving as vice president. He plans to major in political science and go to law school to become a family attorney. He will be the first person in his family to graduate with a four-year college degree.