SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii (April 3, 2013) -- Hale Kula Elementary School was the first stop for U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono on her tour, here, April 3.

Earlier this year, Hirono announced the school would receive a $26.6 million Department of Defense facilities grant, and she wanted the opportunity to see the school, learn more about the upcoming project, and meet with parents and students.

Hirono was joined by State Representative K. Mark Takai; Complex Area Superintendent, Dr. John Brummel; Col. Daniel Whitney, commander, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii; and Command Sgt. Maj. Philip Brunwald, senior enlisted leader, USAG-HI.

The senator requested a meeting with parents to get their perspective of education and how it might be improved. Several parents shared that even though they had heard negative comments about schools in Hawaii, they decided to take a chance and have not regretted their decision.

"It's important to get involved," stated Stacy Timmins, president of the school's Parent Teacher Organization, as others nodded in agreement.

Parents shared information about programs found at schools in Hawaii, such as transition programs that help students to adjust to school, and a partnership with Tripler Army Medical Center, which supports students by providing mental health services at school.

Parents pointed out that military children face unique challenges, and these kinds of programs are appreciated.

"These services weren't available at other schools we've attended," said parent Jennifer Calhoun.

The next stop for the senator was room F4 where fourth and fifth graders are part of a pilot Blended Learning program, funded by a DODEA grant. Students in this program attend school for two-and-a-half days per week and access their learning virtually at home on the other days.

Blended Learning students had researched material about Sen. Hirono, and they had prepared a number of questions to ask her.

Some questions included, "If you could change one law, which one would it be?"; "What world leaders have you met?"; "Why did you want to be a Senator?"; and "Is it a hard job?"

Hirono answered the questions patiently, and then it was time for the students to share their electronic portfolios with the visitors.

It was wonderful to see the students teaching the visitors about how they access their lessons online, how they communicate with their teacher and their classmates, and how they have used technology to create projects.

Visitors were amazed at the confidence of the students as well as their competence and creativity when using technology.

The visit came to an end much too soon. Hopefully, Sen. Hirono will be back to see the school when the facilities project is completed.