Categorized | Education

Waimea school to experiment with testing strategy


No one at Waimea Middle School could have dreamed that saying ‘No’ to student furloughs and ‘Yes’ to chewing gum might be among the local decisions they would make when they voted to become the state’s first public conversion charter school back in 2003.

“But these are the kinds of decisions local schools can and should make to do what’s best for students,” said WMS CEEO/Principal, John Colson, whose 6-8th graders have attended classes as usual this school year despite DOE Furlough Fridays.

And now, upon learning that research says students may do better on tests if they are chewing gum to soothe nerves and help them focus, WMS students will be offered chewing gum – usually “forbidden fruit” at the school — during the annual high stakes Hawaii State Assessment (HSA) tests which begin this week.

Sugarless peppermint gum is the latest addition to a long list of “local decisions” aimed at doing everything possible to nurture academic progress by Waimea students, many of whom enter 6th grade reading and computing several years below grade level.

“We’re seeing great progress by students, thanks to hard, focused work by everyone,” said Colson, who added that “we couldn’t do this without help from our Local School Board, Hookakoo Corporation, and many community friends and partners who have donated funding and other support despite very tight financial times.”

“One of our teachers came across a Los Angeles Times’ health news story about a study conducted by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in which 108 students, ages 13-16, who were allowed to chew gum had a 3 percent increase in standardized math test scores,” he said.

Exactly how gum helps kids crunch numbers is not quite clear, said the study’s lead author.

“We did not explore the mechanism behind this relationship. However, there is research demonstrating an increase in blood flow in the brain during chewing,” said Dr. Craig Johnston of Baylor College of Medicine.

“Other research recommends the gum be both sugarless and peppermint flavored. Peppermint is believed to enhance energy, brighten mood, help breathing and improve mental clarity and memory,” Colson said.

He added that experts believe peppermint’s refreshing aroma and flavor invigorate the senses. In fact, air scented with peppermint has been shown to reduce careless errors and to improve performance.

“As a public conversion charter school, it’s up to our teachers and administrative staff to decide what’s best for students. Our teachers have agreed to give gum a try,” Colson said.

“Our school’s educational mission is to implement a wide array of strategies that research says helps students do their best,” Colson said.

So, despite tight financial times for all Hawaii schools, especially public charters, WMS has been among the public charter schools that have refused to furlough students and managed to feed students Stone Soup and other healthy foods on DOE Furlough Fridays.

The school also has kept classes small, introduced an effective online math tutoring program, mandated uniforms to focus everyone’s time and attention on learning, funded free after-school Homework Help, required every student to take PE/Health including hands-on nutrition education in the Malaai school garden, and actively promoted school-wide values of “paahana” (hard, industrious work) and “kaizen” (every day doing better than the day before).

“We’re also urging families to help their child get plenty of rest and have a nutritious breakfast before school each morning and to arrive on time. And during HSA tests, we are providing healthy, delicious morning snacks and water for students to be sure they have good energy and are appropriately hydrated,” Colson said.

“We will ask students to surrender the gum when tests are over. We’re still a no-gum school during the regular school day because it can become such a nuisance if not carefully disposed of.”

2 Responses to “Waimea school to experiment with testing strategy”

  1. Chris Ching says:

    I remember that study regarding the act of chewing and stimulation of the brain… Let’s just hope for the janitors’ sakes that the gum remains in their mouths then the trash. – C

  2. siteezen says:

    Just shows how desperate the schools are to make good.

    A positive correlation does not indicate cause.


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