Kapolei’s Ho‘ola Provides Academic Model For Success

Ho‘ola Leadership Academy is a success story that seems too good to be true.

Ho‘ola is one of several Kapolei High School career academies, with a focus on natural resources, green-collar jobs and sustainability — and a 90 percent graduation rate.

The average week might find Ho‘ola’s approximately 200 students in the classroom, conducting lessons in Hawaiian, drawing 3-D models for math and discussing current events like the Baltimore riots, and later outside, working with earth ovens and planting herb microgardens around campus.

“They’re not just learning to learn. They’re actually able to apply (what happens in the classroom) to the community in which they live,” said Ho‘ola founder and teacher Joan Lewis. “We teach our students: Every single one of you has a value to the community. You can’t afford not to be here. We can’t afford for you not to be here.”

But what might be more impressive is how Ho‘ola manages to get all that done.

“The beauty of our program is that it’s actually completely on the school campus and part of the school population. … We don’t require special or separate funding, and we run the program using all of the graduation requirements,” said Lewis.

She explained that Ho‘ola initially began as an alternative intervention program that “made it unnecessary to intervene,” targeting at-risk students early — as freshman, rather than as juniors or seniors.

Ho‘ola also expanded the definition of “at-risk” when culling its initial class.

The academy asked teachers to recommend to the program students who need “a little extra aloha” to graduate successfully.

Low-income and academically and behaviorally challenged students were on the list, but Ho‘ola was keen to help some nontraditional can-didates.

“(These students had) solid academics, not a problem in class — but their teachers knew a little extra aloha would help them,” Lewis said. “The referrals that have come through for us are spot on … Every referral was a student that benefitted from being in Ho‘ola.”
Not having extra monies isn’t a big deal either, Lewis said, noting that the program benefits from the annual budgetary review and self-reflection.

“All schools have limited resources,” she said. “How we choose to use our resources says a lot about where the school’s priorities are, and this says a lot, that (Kapolei) continues to make our program one of the school’s priorities.”

Lewis isn’t sure where Ho‘ola will go next. Kohala High School from Hawaii island has used Ho‘ola as a model to start a similar program, and other schools have also come to check out the program.

“We don’t know if the future is Ho‘ola everywhere or some version of Ho‘ola