Kamehameha Schools Focuses on Public Schools Along the Waianae Coast

Educating Hawaiians beyond the walls of its campuses, KSBE provides targeted support to one of Oahu’s low-income communities.

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Editor’s Note: This story is part of HONOLULU Magazine’s public education coverage this month. Be on the look out for additional stories online and a video Q&A with Board of Education chair Don Horner and Department of Education superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi. To read more about what it’s like, day-to-day at Nanakuli High and Intermediate School, buy the May issue on newsstands now, or subscribe here.

Students at Nanakuli High and Intermediate School are part of the New Tech Academy, a project-based learning program funded by Kamehameha Schools.

photo: Courtesy Nanakuli High and Intermediate School and Kamehameha Schools

Kamehameha Schools, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, is looking to help Hawaiians beyond the walls of its campuses and become a more integral part of the community. “We looked back and [asked], have we improved native Hawaiian wellbeing for all the years we’ve been here,” says Shawn Kanaiaupuni, the public education support division director. She pauses, looking out the window of her third-floor office in Kawaiahao Plaza. “If you look at the statistics, we don’t see a whole lot of change, unfortunately,” she says. “In fact some areas, like the Waianae coast, have gotten worse.”

Kanaiaupuni is referring to the low high-school graduation rates, the ongoing, prevalent substance abuse, the rate of homelessness and the multitude of other sobering realities for many on Oahu’s west side. That’s why there are renewed efforts to provide targeted support, which for KSBE, is in the form of public education outreach. Half of all children in public schools along the Waianae coast are part Hawaiian, more than 70 percent of them are on free or reduced lunches and more of the school student population is in special education programs compared to other public schools on Oahu.

In 2010, Kamehameha Schools launched the Ka Pua Initiative, which provides education and support services for infants to young adults and their families. Ka Pua means “the flower” in Hawaiian, and Kanaiaupuni explains that each community and education program is a petal, all of which together point to the overall goal of community betterment. Ka Pua programs are geared toward the child’s age and learning development, such as Keiki Steps to Kindergarten for toddlers, Literacy Instruction and Support for elementary and middle school students and College Connections for high school students.

“We believe that all children should be supported, whether it’s healthcare, shelter or education,” says Kanaiaupuni. She explains that the KSBE has worked hard to bring other community partners to the table, such as those providing health services, homelessness outreach, drug abuse treatment and more so that these dubbed “wrap-around services” are streamlined and that nonprofits are not duplicating services.

But KSBE support isn’t just happening in the Waianae coast communities, it’s taking place right in the public schools. The biggest example is the New Tech Academy, a project-based learning model. Kamehameha schools granted $1.4 million for teacher training and support to get New Tech—part of the national New Tech Network—off the ground at both Waianae High School and Nanakuli High and Intermediate School in 2010. New Tech is also the most concrete example of Hawaii’s Race to the Top reforms in action at the school level.

“Every student on the Waianae coast should have the choice, the vision and the support for post-secondary success, college and career,” she says. “We’re not afraid to take a stand on that.”

New Tech students at both schools do all of their work on laptops, and more often work collaboratively in groups on projects and presentations, rather than listening to teachers lecture and doing book-work assignments.

Many of the schools that participate in the New Tech Network are historically low-achieving schools in low-income communities, and Waianae and Nanakuli are no exception. In fact, says Kanaiaupuni, the Waianae coast schools are “definitely on the lower end of that continuum.”

However, New Tech has resulted in positive change for students. For example at Nanakuli, student attendance jumped to 98 percent and the ninth-grade failure rate has dropped 15 percent from the 2009-2010 school year.

“One of the chief problems [in these communities] is first getting kids to school, then it’s keeping them in school and then you have to engage them in learning,” says Kanaiaupuni. “Those three things are what the New Tech model brings in a different way … The students aren’t just sitting and getting; they’re engaged in their own learning process.”

Kanaiaupuni says the goal of Ka Pua is cultivate a community that strives to overcome its challenges, especially when it comes to education. “We imagine the Waianae coast being a place where master teachers want to come and work and learn because it’s a chance to be innovative and you can do things like project-based learning that you can’t do at other schools.”

Want to read more of our education coverage from May 2012? Check out the links below.

A Tale of Two Schools in Hawaii

Video Q&A with Don Horner and Kathryn Matayoshi

From Iolani School to Moanalua High School: A Parents’ Tale

Q&A: How is the DOE helping poor-performing schools?

Q&A: Why don't all public schools have midterms and final exam weeks?

Q&A: Why don't student representatives get a vote?

Q&A: What do schools have in place to ensure communication with parents?