In the inaugural Strive HI Performance System results announced last month, Waipahu was one of many high schools in the state making gains in college enrollment rates.
Quite remarkable, considering residents in this former sugar plantation town have historically had among the lowest percentage of high school and post-secondary diplomas in Hawaii.
Across the country we face sobering facts: There's disparity in the achievement of at-risk students, and too many of our graduates aren't succeeding in college or careers.
Waipahu High students have earned close to $30 million in combined college scholarships in recent years, including $11.1 million for the Class of 2013.
And here's a particularly heartening statistic: Many of Waipahu's students in the last few years have become the first person in their families to attend college. Our Early College program is one of the main reasons for the recent success.
With the support of our partners at University of Hawaii-West Oahu and Leeward Community College, and with funding support from the McInerny Foundation, Waipahu High students are able to take free college-level courses on campus after school.
This success is not exclusive to Waipahu. GEAR UP Hawaii has done a tremendous job in introducing the importance of college preparation to high school students. Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), funded by the U.S. Department of Education, provides students and families the resources they need to succeed in college. Since its inception in 1999, GEAR UP has improved educational outcomes for millions of low-income students across the United States.
This year, more than 17,000 students were served statewide by the three Hawaii GEAR UP programs (GEAR UP Hawaii, GEAR UP Waipahu and Nanakuli-Waianae GEAR UP). The programs aim to broaden college awareness, expand academic readiness and increase postsecondary success among Hawaii's public school students.
The three Hawaii GEAR UP programs collaborate with Hawaii's Department of Education and the University of Hawaii system, as well as the government, nonprofit and private sectors to provide information, encouragement, support, resources and services to help eliminate achievement gaps among groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education.
I am particularly proud of one of our seniors, Juanito Moises, who over the summer was named the 2013 GEAR UP National Youth of the Year. This young man arrived in Hawaii with his parents and seven other siblings only nine years ago from the Isabela Province of the Philippines.
Juanito learned English at Honowai Elementary, Waipahu Intermediate and Waipahu High. Today, he holds a 3.98 grade point average and aspires to be an engineer. Next fall, Juanito will be the first in his family to attend a four-year college.
He is a testament to the opportunities afforded to all children in our public education system.
Students and their successes drive our passion and dedication as educators. In order to learn our students' passion, we first need to understand who they are, as well as their aspirations and interests. Students need to know there is at least one significant adult who cares and believes in them.
When we engage students and keep them focused in what makes them thrive, we are chasing perfection and helping them to realize their dreams for a better future.
This piece from Waipahu High Principal Keith Hayashi originally ran on the Editorial page of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Oct. 16, 2013.