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Waipahu High is first in nation with Phi Theta Kappa chapter


Waipahu High School students Hazel Ann Laguitan, left, Leila Crizel Fernandez and Tracy Mae Felix displayed their membership certificates in the Phi Theta Kappa collegiate honor society Friday at an induction ceremony in the school library. Waipahu is the first high school in the country to be granted a charter in the collegiate honor society.

In another move to raise its students’ sights, Waipahu High has become the first high school in the nation to charter a chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for two-year colleges.

On Friday evening 56 students were inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, which is marking its centennial this year. Aariel Charbonnet, director of membership services, said the society was “thrilled” to grant Waipahu’s charter request.

“We are an organization committed to providing membership access to as many deserving students as possible,” she told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “And the opportunity to charter a Phi Theta Kappa chapter on the grounds of a high school — the first in our history — is tremendous.”

“Waipahu’s exemplary students, some of whom graduate high school with an associate degree, are incredibly deserving of their own Phi Theta Kappa chapter,” she added.

Waipahu High pioneered Early College, which brings professors onto high school campuses to teach college courses, an approach that has taken off statewide. The goal is to help students who might not otherwise attend college discover they can handle it, and many have thrived in the program.

Alexandra Bumanglag, a 15-year-old sophomore, was excited to be among the inaugural inductees in Waipahu’s new Phi Theta Kappa chapter, dubbed Beta Chi Omega. “It’s a good opportunity, especially for us,” she said. “We’re a very isolated state. It’s like we’re the underdogs. It shows that kids like us, we have potential.” Bumanglag has maintained a grade-point average above 4.0, having taken four college courses as a freshman, and is now tackling two more: philosophy and college algebra.

Students who have completed 12 college credits, the equivalent of four courses, and have GPAs of 3.5 or more are eligible to join Phi Theta Kappa. In the past, Early College students who earned enough credits and excelled have joined the honor societies at community colleges such as Leeward, which works closely with Waipahu High.

Mark Silliman, director of Early College at Waipahu, thought students would benefit from their own chapter on Waipahu’s campus, and approached Phi Theta Kappa with the idea. The international honor society includes service and leadership activities, and membership opens up access to various college scholarships.

“What we want to do is design features of an Early College program that heighten motivation,” he said. “It’s more than just saying you want to go to college. We need to have academic counseling, we need to have cheerleaders like myself, we need to have programs that incentivize hard work.”

“It was difficult for our students who met the qualifications to get up to the main campus at Leeward to participate and enjoy all the rich activities of an honor society,” Silliman said.

The Waipahu Community Foundation is covering the cost of the lifetime membership fee for Waipahu students in Phi Theta Kappa, which runs about $85. More than half of Waipahu’s student body qualifies for subsidized lunch because of low incomes.

Members must maintain their GPA through graduation. Waipahu administrators have been working to get kids excited about excelling academically starting in elementary school, and each school in the Waipahu complex has an honor society, Silliman said.

Waipahu sophomore Ashley Hartsfield, another Phi Theta Kappa inductee with a GPA over 4.0, joined the National Junior Honor Society in eighth grade. She is hoping to attend UCLA and thinks being part of the college honor society could help.

“Even before you enter college, you are already kind of ahead of the game,” she said. “You’re already prepared for what’s to come.”

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