Waipahu Charter School Planned

If it takes a village to raise a child, Sheila Buyukacar is hoping her proposed charter school, The IMAG Academy, can become that community hub for Waipahu students.

“I really believe we all need to be part of the ‘village’ in raising our children, and when you’re part of that village, it’s critical that the educational piece is there,” Buyukacar explained.

But the Pearl City resident, who graduated from Waipahu High School, didn’t quite see the communal atmosphere she wanted for her children in today’s public schools, particularly on the high-enrollment campuses in West Oahu.

“It can be done at a charter school a lot easier than at a regular public school,” she said. “We should all have that kind of educational opportunity — and I believe we shouldn’t have to pay extra money for that kind of opportunity.”

So she started planning and researching a vision for her own school, and thus the idea for The IMAG Academy (IMAG stands for Innovative Mindful Accepting Giving) was born.

The key word for Buyukacar is “relevance.” She points out that every student is obligated to learn according to state and federal standards, but there’s a divide between what happens inside and outside the classroom.

“No. 1 is taking what we learn in the classroom and tying it back to not only (class) projects, but projects that have value within the community,” Buyukacar said.

She cited the example of a school garden. A typical school garden may share its harvest with students and their families. But the academy’s garden would partner with seniors, businesses and other organizations, and the relationship would endure and improve over many years, rather than just for a semester.

Buyukacar also emphasized the importance of a “school family.”

“Most times the emotional and social and communication development of a student is left up to the teacher. Although we have character education in schools, it’s not a full-on environment,” she noted.

The IMAG Academy will institute a schoolwide framework that will focus on language use, modeling and routines that teach conflict resolution and a sense of community belonging.

It’s an ambitious vision, and Buyukacar is hopeful the vision will become reality. She submitted the first round of application paperwork Dec. 1, and she’ll hear if she got preliminary approval in January.

If all goes well, The IMAG Academy will welcome its first group of students in the 2016-17 school year. Buyukacar is scouting possible campus sites in Waipahu.

Right now, she encourages community help and feedback, particularly in the form of board members willing to share expertise in any area. But she believes the most important thing is simply awareness.

“What I’ve noticed, because I’m from the area, is we’re either going to go to public school or going to go to private school. And that’s it; we don’t have any choices. We don’t think about the possibility of a charter school, with free tuition, in our area.”

Visit theimagacademy.org for more information.