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Alana Folen

Forming Female Leaders Of The Future

Founded by Queen Emma for girls at a time when educational opportunities were rare, St. Andrew’s Priory today sends 100 percent of grads to college

As the longest-standing school for girls in Hawaii, St. Andrew’s Priory School educates, cultivates and molds promising girls into women ready to take on the world. This year, the K to 12 college-preparatory school celebrates 145 years of continued excellence and preserving the Queen’s legacy.

“Queen Emma Kaleleonalani, wife of King Kamehameha IV, founded the Priory May 30, 1867, at a time when there were no formal education options for young women. Unless you were a missionary girl or of ali’i families, you had to find your own educational opportunities,” says head of school Sandra Theunick.

“Queen Emma was a courageous woman, and she envisioned Hawaii would need educated women to take Hawaii forward.”

Starting in 1902, under the jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church of the United States, St. Andrew’s Priory was run by the Sisters of the American Order of the Transfiguration until 1969, when the school extended its leadership responsibilities to a head of school.

“Queen Emma was a world traveler, she was not somebody to stay home,” Theunick says of the sophisticated queen who often traveled abroad to Europe and visited Queen Victoria several times during her reign.

“And even after her husband and son passed away, Queen Emma went back to Europe and England to find teachers and money to found the Priory,” says Theunick.

Fast forward to today. What once began as a boarding school for close to 10 girls studying basic courses such as English, Hawaiian, mathematics and nursing is now a driving force centered in the hub of downtown Honolulu, where its students are exposed to a rich academic curriculum and 100 percent of its girls are college-bound.

In fact, according to Theunick, last year’s entire graduating class attended four-year colleges and universities.

“The walls of the classroom are definitely expanding,” she says. “Maori King Tuheitia and his wife Madame Atawhai recently visited the school, which is a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime experience, and we are really starting to take advantage of our location. The Priory is literally footsteps away from any learning opportunity that a girl may want to have – be it in medicine, in the arts, in politics, in certain kinds of business or banking.

“Right now we are working really hard on a program called Priory in the City, which we hope to launch in August 2013, and it will become an intricate part of our program for grades 10-12, where our students will begin by learning about the city, government sector, profit-making sector, nonprofit-making sectors, etc., and then actually begin working in these sectors,” Theunick explains. “By the time they’re seniors, they will have real work internships.”

With a current enrollment of nearly 400 students (not including the 150 keiki attending Queen Emma Preschool), St. Andrew’s Priory is small enough to be personal, but big enough to be powerful.

“We can take a girl, and if she wants to be a rocket scientist, journalist or singer, we can figure out a way to get her there,” Theunick says.

Throughout the years, St. Andrew’s Priory School has educated thousands of Hawaii’s women who have taken their place at the table as leaders and contributing members of society here in the Islands and abroad. Such distinguished alumni include U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and YWCA of Oahu CEO Kimberly Miyazawa Frank, among others.

“Here at the Priory, no girl falls through the cracks, every girl is focused on. Everyone has a job to do in life, and we’re going to help you figure out what that is and help you learn how to do it,” Theunick states. “We’re all part of a world community. We try to get our students to focus on who they’re called to be. That sense of personal honesty and integrity about what you have to bring to the world is important.”

The Priory’s core values are steeped in embracing diversity. Whether it’s ethnic, socio-economic or religious diversity, every girl is able to define herself and feel comfortable in her own skin.

The school motto, “kulia i ka nuu,” or strive for the highest, evokes an understanding that anything is possible.

“When a girl leaves here I want her to know that she’ll always have a choice – she will never be a victim. She has the personal power to change her world if she needs to,” Theunick says with a smile.

“She can choose to be whatever she wants to be and she has the power to control that.”

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