2016 Hōkūpa‘a Summit held in West Hawai‘i; community comes together to empower youth

The summit—attended by a large cross section of stakeholders in education—was held to understand how to improve student engagement.

View of roomful of people seated at dining tables. People at closest table are turned toward the camera.

What happens when you bring together 300 youth, teachers, principals, community partners, and regional leaders to talk about student success? You witness inspiring conversations between a variety of stakeholders and begin to envision a new picture of education in West Hawai‘i.

On April 21, a diverse group of attendees gathered at the Hilton Waikoloa Village for the 2016 Hōkūpa‘a/Instructional Leadership Team Summit, a combined event between the Hōkūpa‘a project and the Hawai‘i State Department of Education’s Instructional Leadership Teams (ILTs).

The mission of the Hōkūpa‘a project is to empower youth, support schools, and build bridges for community partnerships.

The ILTs are supported by the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation and made up of teachers and principals to increase collaboration and share in the decision-making of curriculum advancement.

In addition to Hawai‘i DOE, partners in the Hōkūpa‘a project include West Hawai‘i youth, schools, and leaders from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo (parent agency), Kamehameha Schools, Hawai‘i Community College-Palamanui, Queen Lili‘uokalani Children’s Center, County of Hawai‘i, Hawai‘i County Council, West Hawai‘i Community Health Center, The Learning Coalition, and Friends of the Future.

The 2016 Summit

Nineteen public schools from across the West Hawai‘i region (Honoka‘a-Kohala-Kealakehe-Konawaena) and a charter school, Kanu o ka ‘Āina, joined the Hōkūpa‘a Youth Council and community partners to understand how to improve student engagement. The youth council is made up of middle and high school students and teacher coaches who contribute to all decision making.

Using cell phones and live audience polling software, anonymous feedback was gathered throughout the day. Attendees submitted hundreds of responses to periodic questions, which Hōkūpa‘a and West Hawai‘i DOE will use to shape their strategic goals for the 2016-17 school year.

The day started with a gallery walk to view the poster presentations made by each school’s Instructional Leadership Team and the 10 Hōkūpa‘a Youth Council teams.


What did you learn in the Gallery Walk?

“That students, community, and school matter!”

“Everyone works hard for the success of our students.”

“Incredible enthusiasm and creativity!”

At the summit, community members were very interested in hearing directly from teachers and were impressed at their commitment.

The Hōkūpa‘a Youth Council teams presented their list of assets that they discovered at their schools such as programs, activities, and offerings for youth. The students reported a new awareness and pride of all that was being offered and respect for the teachers organizing the activities. Attendees thoroughly enjoyed hearing from the students and learning about all the initiatives schools have to offer young people.


“I thought it was great to have the students presenting! They did a really good job!”

“Relationships and purpose are important to students.”

“The students are empowered and it shows.”

Alex Harris, senior program officer for education at the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, attended in support of their investment in the ILT model.

“We are honored to again partner with West Hawai‘i schools in helping support an emerging model of leadership, where responsibility for high quality, engaging classroom instruction is shared between teachers and administrators,” says Harris. “Including student voice this year highlighted our moral imperative to help all students achieve their dreams.”

Attendees also heard from West Hawai‘i complex area superintendent, Art Souza.

Art Souza
Art Souza

“This is very adaptive work,” says Souza. “We are innovating to inspire. It is not enough to change something here or there at the fringes. We must be willing to get a little lost, go into the unknown, and discover what we have not tried before.”

For the remainder of the day, the groups used the Design Thinking process, facilitated by Ravi Pare from Oceanit, to consider ideas for improving student engagement in the classroom. Attendees participated in a significant empathy-building activity where students interviewed teachers to get their perspective on how they build and struggle with student engagement.


What is your commitment to next steps after the summit?

“I will not stop until I invent something that will help encourage others to engage themselves in what they want to do.”

“I want to make this community better for younger kids.”

“(W)ork towards bettering not only myself, but my school and community.”

“My commitment to the next step is to get involved.”

Students also discussed what they wanted in order to be engaged and where they were not finding themselves engaged now.

Jamee Miller
Jamee Miller

Kamehameha Schools regional director for West Hawai‘i, Jamee Miller, observed the activities.

“The youth council members leading the design thinking activity with adults to create solutions together—this is exactly how we want to foster and grow future leaders in West Hawai‘i,” says Miller. “Hōkūpa‘a is doing a magnificent job at fore-fronting this movement.”


What is your commitment to next steps after the summit?

“…listen to student voices more and try to create partnerships with them to redefine the school culture and make the school an exciting place that works for all students.”

“Try our own school based out-of-the-box thinking on student engagement. Asking our students what they want.”

“Seek out community members to engage.”

“Work with chamber of commerce to build relationships with school, students, and business.”

Organizers say Hōkūpa‘a and West Hawai‘i DOE will continue the work to improve the personal, educational, and economic success of young people. They invite all interested community members to join them because everyone is needed to help young people thrive.

Kei-Lin Cerf
Kei-Lin Cerf

“The Hōkūpa‘a approach is to ask our youth, teachers, and community to be design partners in our work,” says Kei-Lin Cerf, UH Hilo director of strategic community development. “We cannot attempt to design solution paths without them.”


For more information about how to participate, contact Kei-Lin Cerf or West Hawai’i DOE community engagement specialist, Sandra Taosaka, at sandra_taosaka@notes.k12.hi.us.

Hōkūpa‘a on Facebook.

-Adapted from a media release.

Photos of event by Claudia Hagan
-click to enlarge-


View of large room of people seated at round tables.



Hokupa'a 2016 Student Activity: People gathered around table in discussion.



Seated at table with others, woman holds up card with the words "I will create an environment that engages everyone."


Photographer Claudia Hagan is a part-time student and portrait photographer.