Launch of collaborative youth program draws academic and government partners

“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.” -Art Souza, DOE 

By Susan Enright.

Group photo.
The Hōkūpa‘a group stands for photo at meeting held on Jan. 9. (Front row, l-r) Matt Lorin (The Learning Coalition), Lisa Faulknor-Inouye (Prosecutor’s Office), Superintendent Matayoshi (Hawai‘i State DOE), Kei-Lin Cerf (UH Hilo), Tiffany Kai (County Mass Transit), Camille Masutomi (Hawai‘i State DOE), Sandi Taosaka (West Hawai‘i DOE), Lauren Naime (Kamehameha Schools), and Reed Flickinger (County Parks and Recreation). (Back row, l-r) Jamee Miller (Kamehameha Schools), Cathy Okumura (Queen Liliuokalani Children’s Center), Karen Eoff (County Council, District 8), Kaeo Duarte (Kamehameha Schools), Marty Fletcher (UH West Hawai‘i Center/Palamanui), Dru Kanuha (County Council, District 7), Art Souza (West Hawai‘i DOE), Wally Lau and Joe Kealoha (Mayor’s Office). Hōkūpa‘a members not pictured: John DeFries (Economic Development), David Hipp (Office of Youth Services), AC Paul Kealoha (County Police Dept.), Mitch Roth and Dale Ross (Prosecuting Attorney), and Don Straney (UH Hilo). Courtesy photo.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is partnering with leading educational and state government groups to start a collaborative discussion about improving the future of West Hawai‘i youth and young adults. Joining the effort are the Hawai‘i State Department of Education (DOE), Kamehameha Schools, the County of Hawai‘i, Queen Lili‘uokalani Children’s Center, and several other West Hawai‘i organizations.

The group, called Hōkūpa‘a (the North Star or literally, the immovable star), held its first meeting in January to discuss the West Hawai‘i 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.

The group is motivated by some sobering statistics.

While nine percent of the overall working age population in the state of Hawai‘i has less than a high school diploma, a full 19 percent of the population in West Hawai‘i 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 Hawai‘i 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.

Hōkūpa‘a

Kei-Lin Cerf
Kei-Lin Cerf

The idea for Hōkūpa‘a started over a year ago, says Kei-Lin Cerf, UH Hilo’s new director of strategic community development for West Hawai‘i.

“At the time, West Hawai‘i 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 Hawai‘i that includes the input of a broad range of people and groups.

“They are ready to do things differently by doing them together,” says Cerf. “This kind of leadership takes courage because you have to admit that what your agency is currently doing isn’t working and your agency cannot do it alone. It also takes bravery to put aside the old reasons why we did not collaborate and create a new history. Once we could say that to each other, we were half way there.”

Cerf says the solution to the problem starts with building on success and making stronger connections between agencies, programs, and most importantly, people who are already seeing positive results.

“While the West Hawai‘i Complex Area has its fair share of challenges, it also has great examples of success,” she says. “Programs are showing positive results with youth, parenting groups have dedicated involvement, and valuable land areas are a resource for āina-based (land-based) STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math).”

“Our greater potential lies in the opportunities where we can connect our successes together.”

The mission

The mission of Hōkūpa‘a is to foster connection and communication between West Hawai‘i 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.

Ultimately, the goal is to help more students graduate from high school, when they will be better prepared to make smart choices about college or employment. This in turn improves the quality of life for the students, their families, and the community as a whole.

Cerf says the Hōkūpa‘a group is building “a collective community model where students and parents have easy access to opportunities.”

“We are increasing our assets and removing our barriers, together,” she says.

Art Souza
Art Souza

Souza, superintendent for Honoka‘a-Kealakehe-Kohala-Konawaena Complex Area, fully supports the group effort.

“The Hōkūpa‘a partnership helps us in West Hawai‘i to realize our dream of leading in and through communities,” he says. “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.”

Hōkūpa‘a is a collaboration of West Hawai‘i leaders. In addition to the DOE, Kamehameha Schools, county agencies, and Queen Lili‘uokalani Children’s Center, also joining UH Hilo (the parent agency) is Hawai‘i Community College, the Hawai‘i County Council, the Prosecutor’s Office, the nonprofit Learning Coalition and the Hawai‘i State Office of Youth Services.

Kaeo Duarte, Kamehameha Schools’ director of strategic initiatives in West Hawai‘i, says positive change across a region as diverse as West Hawai‘i 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. Hōkūpa‘a’s goal is for all of us to listen to each other and the kahea (call) to hoe (paddle) as one.”

The high number of students in West Hawai‘i 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 Palamanui. But students must be prepared for that option through support and intervention starting many years earlier.

“The Hōkūpa‘a project is well-conceived for our West Hawai‘i 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 Hawai‘i. “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.”

Hōkūpa‘a will host a Youth Support Forum in the near future. For more information, contact Kei-Lin Cerf.

 

About the writer of this story: Susan Enright is a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.