Podcast: A Conversation with Two Academy Deans

In our ongoing “Listen and Learn” podcast series, Director of Admissions and Enrollment Management at Punahou School, Maile Uohara, spoke with Academy Deans Erin Martezki and Deane Salter.

Each “Listen and Learn” podcast aims to provide valuable information and insights about our school and programs for prospective families. In each episode, we’ll be inviting guests from our school community to share their knowledge and experiences with our listeners. 

You can find Punahou’s Team Up podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Simplecast and Google Play.

Podcast Transcript

Maile Uohara: Aloha. My name is Maile Uohara and I’m the director of Enrollment Management and Admissions at Punahou School. I’d like to welcome you to our Listen and Learn podcast, where we aim to provide valuable information and insights about our schools and program. In each episode, we’ll be inviting guests from our school community to share their knowledge and experiences with our listeners.

Today I’m delighted to have you meet Erin Maretzki and Deane Salter, two of our current academy deans. As deans, they have followed two classes from the day they walked into campus as freshmen to the last day where we celebrated the students’ graduation and watched them become young adults ready to take on the world. Erin and Deane will be talking to us about the different course options that Punahou has to offer and the different paths each student can take to further their passions or discover new ones. We will also touch upon the college counseling process and how we prepare our students for our life. After Punahou. Erin and Deane, welcome to our Listen and Learn podcast. I’d love it if you could share a little bit about yourselves with our listeners before we start asking questions. 

Erin Maretzki: Thanks for having us, Maile. I have been at Punahou for a few years now, and I have had a number of jobs. I started off as a Spanish teacher and then I became the language department head and I’ve also taught a SURF class, which is a social, emotional and ethical learning class. And I currently teach a learning strategies class, which is a guided study hall class, which I do along with “deaning.” And “deaning” is the best job I’ve ever had. It’s so much fun to watch our kids grow up from sweet little ninth graders into young adults as 12th graders and help them get ready to go off to college or their next adventure. 

Maile Uohara: First off, thank you for explaining what SURF is because can I just tell you, when I was programming or getting registration for my kids, I was like, they get to learn how to surf? Are you kidding me? That’s amazing, but it’s actually not in the water. So thank you very much for explaining that. Deane, I’d love to hear a little bit more about yourself and I know our listeners would love to learn about you. 

Deane Salter: Yeah, thanks so much for having me on the podcast. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here. So I’ve been at Punahou, this is my 12th year now, and originally I came to Punahou as a counselor. My background is in school psychology, so that’s kind of what brought me here. And when I first came, I taught AP psychology as well as a bunch of our social emotional learning classes. Did some stuff with outdoor ed and our camp programs, and then was the department head for our social emotional learning and counseling program at the time. I’ve been a dean for nine years now, and during that time I’ve taught a bunch of different classes, but kind of my area of focus over the past few years, I’ve been working with our kids with any kind of learning challenges, learning differences. So I’ve been teaching learning strategies, which is a support class for kids that need a little extra help staying organized and just learning good habits to do well in the classroom. 

Erin Maretzki: I just wanted to say one thing that I forgot that Deane and I both forgot to mention is that we’ve both been college counselors as well. 

Deane Salter: Oh, that’s right. 

Erin Maretzki: Which helps guide the students. 

Maile Uohara: And it just dawned on me that for some of our listeners, they might not even know this concept of dean and what a dean here at Punahou in our academy or high school means. So I would love it if you could share a little bit exactly what dean or “deaning” means. 

Erin Maretzki: Well, Deane explains it perfectly by saying we’re like a concierge. We are the ones who service the kids and their parents and the families. And we might not always have exactly the answer, but we will get them in touch with anyone who can support them or anyone who can help them. So we’re sort of the hub. We are the people who see the whole picture of the student. So we guide them from ninth grade to 12th grade, as you said we’re there with them for four years. We help them program their classes. We talk with them about possible classes they can take. We help them troubleshoot. We celebrate them when they have something to celebrate. And again, if they need help, we put them in contact with whoever that person would be. 

Maile Uohara: I think for so many students that I’ve talked to, you’re the trusted adults on campus for them too. 

Deane Salter: Yeah, I think Erin explained it really well. We’re lucky enough at Punahou to have an incredible array of resources from our physical resources to the people who work here, the opportunities that come across our campus. And so one of the major parts of our job too is getting to know the kids well enough to know what resources would help them fulfill whatever their passions are, their dreams or what they want to pursue. So we are kind of the connective link between all those opportunities and the students. 

Maile Uohara: That’s amazing. Which leads me greatly into my first question, which is, parents often when they first come to our school, or at least through their admissions process, they get this big book, which is beautiful, and all the courses that we offer and the opportunities that students can take. How is that you first guide them into thinking about what to explore here at the school, the courses to take in that first meeting when they’re onboarding as ninth graders? 

Deane Salter: Yeah, so we’re lucky in that we have a very diverse student population and a very diverse course catalog. For some students, math and science and STEM things really excite them and they have a lot of passion in that area. But for another student that might not be their thing and they have other interests. And so it’s really nice that if they want to do art or if they want to do English or if they are really interested in history, we have courses to meet their curiosity and their passions. So we meet with every student every year, either Erin or I, and we usually go every other year. So throughout their four years, we’ll meet with everyone at the minimum twice, but most likely much more than that, but at least twice where we discuss what their interests are and how we can align their course selection to those interests and passions. 

So in ninth grade, a lot of it is just exploration. It makes a lot of sense that kids at that age aren’t really sure what they’re interested in or what they’re passionate about or what they’re good at. So we kind of just let them know all of the different options and they select from there. And then as we get feedback over the years from their teachers and from seeing them and where they succeed and thrive and where they need to put in a little more work, we’re able to push them towards their areas of interests or if they express to us, I’m really interested in this, how do I get more involved? We can kind of point them in the directions towards courses that meet that need. 

Maile Uohara: Would you say that beginning year, that freshman year is really about just establishing the cores and that trajectory, but then as they start to learn about the options that we have here that it could be a little bit more about the explorations or trying new things? 

Erin Maretzki: Definitely, yeah. We do want to focus kids on taking care of those core requirements those first two years. And then when they get to 11th and 12th grade, I think there’s something like 33 different English classes they can take, probably, I think the same amount of science classes. There’s just so many different cool classes that they can take advantage of and just try to see what kind of piques their interest. 

Deane Salter: It’s interesting to see when we get to the end of a kid’s four year journey here at Punahou, it’s rare to see any two students that have the same transcript because they all have kind of explored and dabbled in different things. And we love that each kid can be their unique self and kind of put their efforts into the things that they’re most passionate about. 

Maile Uohara: What are some of the common questions, whether it’s that first meeting that you have with the students or throughout the years that they’re here, what are some of the common questions that you always hear from our parents or from students themselves as they’re thinking about this journey that they’re charting for themselves here at the school.

Erin Maretzki: We always hear, what will my schedule look like? How long will my classes be? We can answer all of these. How do I get into a good college? What do I need to take to make my transcript look as great as it can to get into a good college? 

Deane Salter: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of questions that come from myths within the community about what your education should be about and how you get to the destination you want to go to. So we do have a lot of questions about college and preparing kids for college. 

Maile Uohara: Well, let’s save that question a little bit towards the end, but I heard you mention something about what does my schedule look like? And I think that’s one of the most unique things here is the schedule. And I think it ties into a little bit about that, how we allow students to also achieve balance or we want them to achieve balance. So I’d love it if you could share a little bit about the schedule and then some of the ways in which students capitalize on that schedule to help them achieve balance in their student life. 

Erin Maretzki: So classes tend to be every other day. So they have an A and a B day kind of schedule. And classes in general start at eight in the morning and end at the latest 3:30. And one of the very unique things about our schedule is that we have breaks, which are just free periods, and the students really need to figure out how to find balance and how to spend that free time. When they’re in ninth grade, they have study halls three times a cycle for the first year. And then by sophomore and junior year, those study halls go away and the kids really need to figure out, how am I going to spend my time? Am I going to eat? Am I going to play video games on my phone? Am I going to study? 

Maile Uohara: So for a parent who – to kind of conceptualize what this means – it’s very similar to maybe what a parent experienced at college. Is that how you would kind of say it? 

Deane Salter: Yeah. I would say a lot of our programming in the academy reflects what you would see at a small liberal arts college. We scaffold that. We understand that ninth graders coming in aren’t quite ready for that level of freedom, which is why we have the study halls. Their schedules are a little fuller. You keep a little bit closer tabs on them, but as they move up all the way to senior year, if they have their privilege card, they’re pretty much operating the same way they would on a college campus. 

Maile Uohara: So what would you say when we think about skills that an individual would need, how is it that you see them come in as ninth graders and those skills that they hone in over the course of the four years to allow them to manage their time effectively and well? The way that you’ve just described.

Deane Salter: I think time management, organization, those are skills we’re all working on. I’m still trying to improve and get better all the time with those types of things and become more efficient in my workflow. But those are things that our students definitely need to work on, and we get that they’re not going to come in with all of those skills, and that’s why we try to give them a little more and more freedom as they go through the academy. 

Maile Uohara: I feel like one that I’ve heard several deans talk about is self-advocacy skills for a student to be able to self-advocate for themselves and have the bravery, sometimes I would say, to be able to talk to your teachers or to go into office hours and those types of things. 

Erin Maretzki: Our teacher’s schedules are very similar to our student’s schedules in that they also have breaks in their schedules and they want to meet with students and they ask them to meet with them because they want to use that time productively and well. And a lot of students do need the one-on-one time. And we do talk about self-advocacy a lot because then if that’s a skill that they can master here at Punahou, then it’s going to pay off. 

Maile Uohara: Take it for life, for sure. 

Erin Maretzki: Yeah, also self-awareness, knowing if they are overly tired, if they need more sleep, if they need to spend their time doing homework, that’s another scope. But yeah, self-advocacy is a really, really huge one that we’re always pushing. 

Maile Uohara: So that aspect of self-awareness. And you had stated if they need sleep or if they need rest, I’d love it if you could dive into a little bit about that balance achieving balance here, because I also know so many of our students are, yes, they’re excellent students, but they’re also athletes or they’re musicians or they have passions that extend beyond your core types of courses. I would love to hear about how some of these students achieve that balance. 

Deane Salter: Yeah, that’s one of the conversations that we weave into the meetings that we have with them in programming is what are your extracurricular activities that you’re involved with? What are your obligations outside of school, whether it’s with family or church or whatever. If you have a job, we want to balance that with their academic course load. So the minimum amount of classes that a student can carry in any one semester is five, but if they are taking things like ROTC and PE on top of that, it can get up to eight classes. It is definitely a lot. And that’s not for everybody, but there are some students that they handle that well and that’s their focus, and maybe they’re not as involved in sports or afterschool job or anything like that, and they can handle that well, but we have those conversations with the kids when they’re starting to talk about their classes and what they’re planning on taking, we will ask them, how’s that going to work out with your church service? Or how’s that going to work out with your ballet class after school or the sport that you’re participating in, and are you getting enough sleep? How are you managing? Do you feel healthy right now with the course load that you have? And we help them to make those decisions. 

Maile Uohara: When you start thinking about it. I could imagine some students or even some parents are like, I want to go to X school, or this is my parents’ alma mater. I need to go to here. And they’re thinking about that course load or the number of classes or I need to take eight because I’m trying to make an impression. I think earlier you had talked about some common questions by parents is: What do I need to do to get into X school? I would love it to get your perspective as deans and your immense experience that you’ve had with all of these students. How do you best talk them through or prepare them on that path while still discovering their passions or excelling at some of the passions they already have? 

Erin Maretzki: Yeah, I think one of the things that we always tell students is that colleges look at what of all the classes available to them, how did they take advantage of their time at Punahou, which classes did they take advantage of? Which classes were they interested in? And those are such interesting ways to show their passion or their interests by their class, by their class selections, because there are a million kids that have a ton of AP classes, a lot of kids do that. So the way to stand out is … 

Maile Uohara:  … not just here, but elsewhere, all over the world, all over. 

Erin Maretzki: So that’s what they look at. Of all the classes that you had, how did you spend your time? 

Deane Salter: Yeah, I think a lot of people that are looking at Punahou hear our message that we’re looking at the whole child and their interest, not just in the classroom, but also outside the classroom and where their passions and interests and curiosity lies. And so what I often tell parents is, if you’re coming in ninth grade and you have a college set for your child, that’s really a disservice to them because they don’t know what their interest is yet. And so we really want to focus on what’s a good fit for the student, not necessarily what’s the best name brand or the cool sweatshirt or the bumper sticker. We really want to find what is the institution that’s going to meet those passions and interests and curiosity of each individual student. And college X might be great for one student and horrible for another. So it’s just a matter of throughout their four years, them getting a feel for who they are, where they want to go next, and then finding the institution that matches those interests. Because there’s over 5,000 different colleges and universities throughout the United States. All of them are great for the right student. So it’s really just a matter of kind of matching the institution to the student. 

Maile Uohara: And I think to what you’re saying before that there’s so many options and pathways that we have here that it allows the students to do some of that discovery of themselves here with all of our amazing resources or being able to take advantage of different classes or even the centers and the work that some of those centers are also able to do. 

Deane Salter: Yeah, absolutely. I think the centers are a perfect example. We have students that I’m sure that in their college admissions, their work with the centers is really the thing that shines, because again, it shows how they chose to use their time when they were here, whether that’s in engineering or that’s in global studies or whether that’s in philanthropy in the community. We have opportunities for kids to do those things. Yet none of those are necessarily classes that they took, but they’re things that they can put forward on their transcript and their applications to show what they really care about. 

Maile Uohara: Do you have an example of a unique, and I don’t want to say unusual, but a unique way in which a student just kind of carved out their path in the way that they use the opportunities here to explore and maybe in some ways that seem non-traditional by other schools or standards? 

Deane Salter: I can think of a few, actually. I don’t want to name …

Maile Uohara: Of course not …

Deane Salter: I don’t have the students’ permission to tell their stories, but I can speak generally. We’ve had students that are really passionate musicians and have gotten really involved with some of the extracurriculars on campus, everything from our variety show recording, original music, writing, music for the variety show, working with our Holokū pageant, which is our kind of May Day celebration, where they were really involved in not just playing of the music, but behind the scenes, all the technical aspects of the sound organization. And that’s what they were really passionate about, and they were able to use that, and I won’t say what college that they went to, but went on to pursue that at a really prestigious school that that’s kind of the specialty that they were into. We’ve had similar things with students that are into cooking and culinary arts, and they found opportunities here on campus to get involved with that and even through talk about an unusual thing, a history class, and then writing a paper about how certain food or ingredients might have influenced some of the things that happened throughout history and pursue their passion that way. And then they’ve gone on to culinary school.

Maile Uohara: Thinking about culinary school. I walked into one of the classes last year, and what I loved about it was they’re connecting back to culture, so the culture of the students and making them make that connection themselves. And I thought that was such a beautiful way to do it because it was almost an oral history of their family connected through food, but it connected back to them, and so it allowed that passion to come through that way.

Going back to the APs, I know you’d said a lot of, I’m sure there’s so many parents out there or even students who are like, I got to take as many APs or honor classes that I have to because that is going to look best on our transcript. What would you say to that student? I think we’ve tied a little bit into it already, but I would love it if you could dive into that a little bit more. 

Erin Maretzki: Well, we always tell kids, don’t take AP classes just to make your transcript look good. We only want you to take an AP class if it’s something you’re really passionate about and you’re going to be into because you’re going to be spending a lot of time and energy on that class, and so you should enjoy it. And then again, we talk about the ways that they can show their interest in other aspects. Like for example, our breaks, that all these breaks we have, they can go to the Luke Center for Public Service, they can go to the engineering lab. There’s so many things.

Deane Salter: They can go to the weight room, they can go to the pool and practice shooting goals for water polo. We have kids. You can go to the glass lab. I mean, I think Erin’s a hundred percent correct in that if you’re taking AP classes just to stack your transcript, it’s usually not going to work out very well because doing poorly in an AP class doesn’t impress anybody and like Erin said, if you’re going to be spending a lot of time on something and you’re going to be doing things that are hard, and we encourage kids to do hard things and take on big challenges, it might as well be something that you’re actually interested in so that the work feels meaningful and not just work and fulfilling. Exactly. 

Maile Uohara: If there’s one thing that you want students or parents or even current students that we have now to walk away and understand about this path and trajectory that they’re on in our academy, what is that one thing that you would want to say to them? 

Deane Salter: That’s a hard one. Again, because we appreciate the diversity of our student population, it’d be hard to say one thing that I’d want to say to all parents, because I think depending on the student, different parents need different messages. I think one of the things that we encourage all parents to do is allow their kids to explore their passions and interests independent of what the parents want. I say this sarcastically, but I mean, a lot of times I tell the parents, you got to go to high school and now it’s your child’s turn to go and let them try some things that may not have been your choice, but it’s something that they’re interested in and see where that takes them. 

Erin Maretzki: Yeah, I was going to say pretty much exactly the same thing, that Punahou is a playground. There are so many opportunities. It’s like Disneyland, there’s so many rides you can go on. There’s so many paths you can take, and this is a nice safe place to try things out and to take a risk to put yourself out there. And I think what the beauty of having deans are is that you have somebody there that is along your side guiding you, and so that you’re making wise choices while you’re exploring what your passions are or could be.

Maile Uohara: Well, thank you so much for joining us on this podcast. I mean, it’s been a delight to sit down with you guys and have these conversations, and I know our listeners will thoroughly enjoy everything that you shared with them. So thank you.

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