Buddhist school to focus on peace

The first U.S. Buddhist high school will open in August in Nuuanu
Honolulu Star Bulletin, Feb. 18, 2003
By Susan Essoyan

Talk of impending war underscores the need for the nation’s first Buddhist high school, which will open in Honolulu this August with a focus on peace education, says Pieper Toyama, head of the school.

Pacific Buddhist Academy, a college preparatory school, is enrolling its first class of ninth-graders, who will be housed on the campus of Hongwanji Mission School in Nuuanu.

“We’re going to go beyond developing happy, successful students,” said Toyama, former headmaster of Parker School in Kamuela. “We’re going to develop happy, successful students who make peace. Coming at a time like this, it makes even more sense.”

Toyama was named last week to head the school, which is affiliated with the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii and will infuse Buddhist values into its curriculum. He taught and worked as an administrator at Honokaa and Hilo High schools and the University of Hawaii-Hilo before spending 12 years as Parker School’s headmaster.

“Peace education will cut across the entire academic curriculum,” Toyama said. Students will learn conflict resolution and communication skills, he said, as well as values such as harmony, interdependence and community service.

The high school has long been a dream of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, the statewide association of temples. Pacific Buddhist Academy will fill the gap between Hongwanji Mission School, which educates 300 children from preschool to eighth grade, and the Buddhist Study Center for college students and adults.

Robert Witt, executive director of the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools, says the unique mission of the high school bodes well because “the more distinct a school is, the better its chances of thriving in any community.”

“Starting any type of school is daunting, but in the case of Pacific Buddhist Academy, it’s an idea whose time has come,” he said. “The school is in good hands, both in terms of governance and leadership.

“Since Buddhism is a growing religion in America, this school is going to get a lot of attention, and it actually already has. People have been calling here asking about it from California and various points east,” Witt said.

The school is open to students of all backgrounds. It intends to start small Aug. 20, with 30 ninth-graders and a student-teacher ratio of 15-to-1, Toyama said. It will add a new grade each school year. Tuition will be $7,000.

“We most definitely want a mix of students,” Toyama said. “The school seeks individuals with diverse backgrounds who at the same time are willing to embrace the concept of the oneness of all human beings.”

Margaret Oda, a member of the board of trustees, said the school hopes eventually to enroll 250 students. Its concern with character development should resonate in today’s society, “given some of the things that have happened to bright people like those involved in Enron.”

“I think most parents do see the need not only to have their children develop intellectually, but also ethically and morally, so they can become contributing citizens of the world,” she said.

The international headquarters of Honpa Hongwanji in Kyoto, Japan, launched the new high school with a $1.5 million donation last year. A building that formerly housed the Young Buddhist Association is being renovated to hold offices and classrooms for the coming year.

Students will share Hongwanji Mission School facilities such as the gym and science lab. The school will expand to the temple side of Pali Highway next year.

Pacific Buddhist Academy also intends to reach out to youths across the state with “distance learning” courses in Buddhist and peace education, Toyama said.

“What we’re hoping to develop is a very active community statewide, engaged in peace education activities,” he said. “The vision is to draw in students, their parents and their grandparents.”

Private school enrollment in Hawaii has been stable in recent years, Witt said. The opening of the academy follows a recent trend toward K-12 schools.

Le Jardin Academy in Kailua expanded into high school last fall with a class of 50 ninth-graders, and will soon add 10th grade. Island Pacific Academy will open this fall in Kapolei with grades pre-kindergarten to seven, and has plans to go through 12th grade.

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