Categorized | Education

Collaborative West Hawaii youth program launched


The University of Hawaii at Hilo is partnering with leading educational and state government groups to start a collaborative discussion about improving the future of West Hawaii youth and young adults.

Joining the effort are the state Department of Education, Kamehameha Schools, the County of Hawaii, Queen Liliuokalani Children’s Center and several other West Hawaii organizations.

The group, called Hokupaa (the North Star or literally, the immovable star), held its first meeting in January to discuss the West Hawaii Complex Area’s ongoing need to align the work of programs, organizations and the community for better outcomes among youth and young adults ages 11 to 25.

While 9 percent of the overall working age population in the state of Hawaii has less than a high school diploma, a full 19 percent of the population in West Hawaii has less than a high school education, the highest percentage in the state (U.S. Census, 2006-2010 survey).

Further, of the students who do finish high school, too few students are pursuing post-secondary education. While almost 26 percent of high school graduates in the state attend one of the UH community colleges, the lowest “go rate” in the state is in West Hawaii at 15.8 percent.

Further still, 28 percent of 16-19 years olds are neither employed nor enrolled in school.

National research shows this puts these young people at greater risk for young adult poverty, unhealthy lifestyles, lower lifetime earning potential and increased reliance on social services.

The idea for Hokupaa started over a year ago, according to Kei-Lin Cerf, UH Hilo’s new director of strategic community development for West Hawaii.

“At the time, West Hawaii Complex Area Superintendent Art Souza and I just wanted to start a conversation with sector leaders to ask what youth mentoring was needed to help make a significant difference for the community,” she says.

The result is the forming of a dedicated group of leaders who want to have a much larger conversation about collective impact for West Hawaii that includes the input of a broad range of people and groups.

The mission of Hokupaa is to foster connection and communication between West Hawaii youth support partners and gather data to help make better decisions.

The work will help all youth and young adult programs and services connect with each other to find ways to learn from each other.

The high number of students in West Hawaii without a high school diploma is a big challenge for postsecondary education because these students are very likely not college ready.

UH hopes to change that with the opening of Hawaii Community College–Palamanui. But students must be prepared for that option through support and intervention starting many years earlier.

“The Hokupaa project is well-conceived for our West Hawaii Community, where we, as educational, community and business leaders, have a particular ability to work together in close respectful networks,” says Marty Fletcher, director at UH Center at West Hawaii. “Our networks can create both a safety net for our young people as well as a lattice which they can climb to recognize and realize their aspirations, and ultimately to become part of a fabric which passes the same opportunities on to the next generation.”

Kaeo Duarte, Kamehameha Schools’ director of strategic initiatives in West Hawaii, says positive change across a region as diverse as West Hawaii will have a greater chance of succeeding if government, DOE, UH and private entities are genuinely communicating and working together.

“We are all trying hard to accomplish our goals individually, but are fast coming to the conclusion that we become like paddlers in a canoe with great potential but not paddling in unison,” says Duarte. “You will move, but not necessarily as fast as you want and in the right direction. Hokupaa’s goal is for all of us to listen to each other and the kahea (call) to hoe (paddle) as one.”

“The Hokupaa partnership helps us in West Hawaii to realize our dream of leading in and through communities,” says Souza. “The work of educating a child is the work of an entire community. Schools participating in trusting partnerships with our broader communities is crucial to caring for the social, emotional and academic wellness of all our children.”

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