While many students opt for time out from school during the summer months, a group of 62 rising 11th graders from Oahu's Leeward Coast didn't take it easy. Thanks to a new program, they've earned part of a college degree for free.
Students from Wai'anae High and Nānākuli High & Intermediate took classes at the University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu as part of a new, intensive six-week program — the Early College Summer Scholars Program — earning college and high school credits along the way.
"We wanted to create a program that would be fun and engaging for students, and would allow them to take courses that connected to their interests and gave them the opportunity to develop leadership skills and grit," said Complex Area Superintendent Ann Mahi.
"This is much different than the Early College programs taking place on our campuses during the year. These students are excited about the fact that they are taking classes at the university where they can truly experience college life," she said.
The program offers an opportunity to earn eight college credits and one high school credit while giving participants the chance to experience life on a college campus — engaging in project-based courses and learning valuable study skills and goal setting techniques.
Classes include: Introduction to Digital Drawing; 'Āina, Place, and Community-based Education (Sustainability for Our Future); Introduction to Video Game Design; University Experience; Identify Place and Culture; and English 198. Credits earned are transferable throughout the 10-campus UH System and other colleges. And the program is free.
"My counselor asked if I wanted to join this program, and she told me that it is free. If each college credit costs around $300 and I'm earning eight credits, that's $2,400. I can save a lot of money," said Wei Qi Wan, a student at Wai'anae High.
For Wei Qi, the program was an opportunity to challenge himself not only at a new campus, but also as an immigrant.
Wei Qi moved to Hawai'i from China four years ago. At the time, he didn't know much about Hawai'i and he described his English as "junk." He said the Early College Summer Scholars Program has helped him improve his mastery of the English language and he's determined to take advantage of this unique opportunity.
"My dad and mom work on a farm and they work very hard. I need to go to school so I can get a good job. I'd like to become a teacher or translator so I can help other [immigrants] like me," he said.
Wai'anae High Vice Principal Tess Kaji noted that Wei Qi has put in long hours over the course of program, often times arriving at school between 6-7 a.m. and staying until the library closed at 5 p.m. to complete his coursework.
"Wei Qi is just one example of how this group of 11th graders really stepped up to the challenge of taking college-level classes. They gave up a big part of their summer to get a jump start on their future, and it was inspiring to see how much they have grown academically and matured these past few weeks," said Kaji.
For student athletes like Shaizen Rabacal from Nānākuli High & Intermediate, the program is an opportunity to take Early College courses over the summer since practice schedules conflict with these and other opportunities during the regular school year.
Rabacal took the initiative to research and sign up for the program. "My parents aren't always going to be there to look out for me, so I need to learn how to do things on my own. They have been very supportive of this opportunity and my long-term goal of becoming a firefighter."
Rabacal balanced a packed schedule of schoolwork and paddling practice over the summer. "I'm tired, but I'm trying to stay focused. I'm serious about going to college and I work hard to make sure all of my assignments are completed. That's the priority."
The program was such a success among the participants and their families this year that Mahi is hoping to grow it next year to include rising 12th graders. She credits the support and generous financial contributions from the University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu, Kamehameha Schools and Hawaiian Electric for making this program possible.
"Our goal is to expand these partnerships to allow more students to participate with the possibility of including rising 11th graders and an even more diverse course offering," said Mahi.