A Valuable ‘Asset’ In People’s Lives

I am privileged to have come across so many influential and inspirational people since I’ve been writing this column, but what makes it more special is that these people have emerged victorious from their personal and public struggles. They have turned important life lessons into blessings for others, and transformed personal heartbreaks into happiness.

This week I focus on why education is a valuable “asset,” literally.


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Moani Hara | Dale Mills, Hawaii Island Photography

Assets School is an independent institution for gifted and/or dyslexic children that provides an individualized, integrated learning environment.

“There is no other school in Hawaii like it. Our small classes, multisensory curricula and structured behavior-management programs allow students to maximize their potential and find their places as lifelong learners in school and society,” says Patti Almirez, Assets communications specialist.

Last Friday, Assets held its fundraiser that generates more than $180,000 annually. One of its silent auction prizes was a chance for fans to serve as extras in an episode of Hawaii Five-0.

Auction chairwoman Marylou Hardisty says, “That prize was a donation from the show and is priceless for Hawaii Five-0 fans.”

But what is even more priceless for Hardisty is that the school provided a unique learning experience that transformed her son’s life.

“Joel struggled in the public-school system for four years until we discovered Assets,” says Hardisty. “He started out in summer school and, by year’s end, we could see the confidence return to him, and he became a much happier student.” She adds that Joel Hardisty (2010 graduate) thrived in the smaller classrooms, and teachers took the time to help him use his unique skills and make the most of them instead of forcing him to learn. Joel went on to serve a church mission in Argentina, where he became fluent in Spanish and currently attends college.

“My climb through education is like climbing Koko Head Crater right behind my house. I tried to climb the way others did, but I didn’t have the necessary skills to be like them. I had to find my own path and use different kinds of skills that were unique to me in order to get to the top of the mountain,” says Joel. “I’m able to climb on my own now, and the stumbles through education have become huge strides in my journey, even in college.”

High-profile students include the newly crowned Miss Hawaii USA Moani Hara (2008 alumna) and young recording artist Danny Carvalho. Hara was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 10. “Some of the challenges I had were comprehension, organizational skills, writing … but the subject I struggled heavily with was math. I couldn’t get it. I would try and try and try, and nothing! I kept getting confused with word problems, times tables, as well as simple addition and subtraction,” admits Hara.

But because her fellow students were fighting the same battles, Hara felt a sense of belonging at Assets. She soon learned how to organize her thoughts into words. She obviously overcame her challenges, thinking quick on her feet in numerous pageants, and now she is studying public relations and is vying for the coveted Miss USA crown this summer. Hara continues her radio/modeling career, and recently has been booked for five magazine covers. Her passion, though, is volunteering with Hawaii International Dyslexia Association (HIDA) and helping to promote Assets.

Carvalho studied at Assets School but left after his freshman year, and eventually graduated from Punahou and the University of Hawaii. Like Hara, Carvalho also battled dyslexia.

“Assets School did two things for me: First, it provided an environment I could succeed in, which allowed me to learn to enjoy getting an education. That’s huge, because a lot of kids never get to that point, and I believe that it’s essential to leading a fulfilling life,” he explains. “The second thing I learned was a bit about how my brain works … that it was different, that I would need to play to its strengths, and that I would need to advocate for myself as a student. This would help me through high school and later through college.”

Carvalho just released Ke Au Hou, which means “A New Era.” His album reflects what he has been learning over the past few years.

“I wanted to create a Hawaiian album that used my foundation in slack key guitar to reflect modern tastes in music, both Hawaiian and American. Now I’m getting ready for a few tours to the West and East coasts to promote it, and beginning to write material for my next album,” he says.

Though he did not graduate from Assets, Carvalho credits some of his focus and success to his Assets experience, having been a student there from the second to eighth grade. He has been nominated for two Na Hoku Hanohano awards as well as a Grammy, and has appeared twice on National Public Radio with Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion.

Almirez says the greatest asset students gain is a personalized, valuable education.

“They leave Assets with the ability to advocate for themselves, a great sense of self-awareness, and a resiliency that allows them to bravely take on any challenge.” Almirez says, and adds that they also leave their Asset School with a deeper understanding of who they are and why they are different, yet eager to celebrate their special gifts and ready to share them with the world!