A Principal And His Homeless Students

Anne Boog, Tim Hendricks, Harley Marie Hendricks and principal Daniel Caluya in front of Na Wai Ola Elementary | Photo courtesy Daniel Caluya

Anne Boog, Tim Hendricks, Harley Marie Hendricks and principal Daniel Caluya in front of Na Wai Ola Elementary | Photo courtesy Daniel Caluya

Hawaii Sheet Metal Workers Union employees are arming themselves with crayons, rulers, notepads, erasers and glue – banding together in the name of education. This is the organization’s campaign to award 10 elementary public institutions with barrels of school supplies benefiting hundreds of Hawaii keiki.

“Since 2010 and every other year since, the Sheet Metal Workers Local Union 293 has partnered with Central Pacific Bank and awarded school supplies to assist Hawaii’s schoolchildren,” says union business manager Arthur Tolentino. “It is our way of showing our commitment to academic excellence. We are pleased to announce that Na Wai Ola has finally made our list and we are honored to have them, especially in light of their challenging circumstances.”

In 2014, the union will sponsor a total of 10 elementary schools – six on Oahu: Kaimiloa, Kaleiopuu, Kapalama, Linapuni, Pauoa and Wahiawa elementary schools; one on Kauai: Kapaa Elementary; one on Maui: Princess Nahienaena Elementary; and finally, two on the Big Island: Paauilo Elementary & Intermediate and Na Wai Ola Charter School.

Giving of his heart and soul to serve the keiki of an impoverished Puna District is a way of life for Daniel Caluya, a 22-year U.S. Air Force veteran turned unsung hero, who is known as an outstanding advocate for children. The Na Wai Ola Elementary principal goes above and beyond his call of duty, and it is no surprise to his close-knit community of Mountain View and Kurtis-town on the Big Island that his institution is about to be honored as the 2014 Charter School of the Year by the Hawaii Public Charter School Network.

Na Wai Ola specializes in agriscience and teaches the student body to be self-sustaining.

“We grow tomatoes, taro, cucumbers, sugarcane and red onions to teach the children to respect their aina and cultivate personal management skills,” explains Caluya.

The school’s agriculture courses are practiced at home. “We also are building a strong partnership with the University of Hawaii-Hilo School of Agriculture and local farmers,” he adds.

In addition to science, the school excels in academics, with an 80 percent pass rate in all subjects as part of the Hawaii State Assessment tests, and it remains one of the top-ranked institutions in the state.

While elementary public school students are conveniently offered a variety of healthier options when it comes to their school lunches, many of Caluya’s students don’t know where their next meal will come from. Up to 90 percent of the 130 enrollees are from at-risk families who don’t have a place to call home. They brave the great outdoors, face the elements and live in makeshift structures or tents.

“A lot of them are homeless and go without running water. They don’t have electricity and the basics to sustain a healthy living environment,” says Caluya.

Anne Boggs, mother of Na Wai Ola kindergartener Harley Marie Hendricks, says, “Our living situation is hard due to lack of a proper place for showering, cooking and eating. The tent is one big room where we eat, relax and sleep.” Boggs and husband Mike Hendricks barely survive with $100 every month. “I feel like it takes away part of my manhood, because I am unable to build a house for my family to live in and be in a healthier environment. I am just grateful that Harley is gaining a great education, thanks to Mr. Caluya and his staff at Na Wai Ola,” adds Hendricks.

Humble surroundings and limited or no transportation make it difficult for students to attend school, but beginning at 5:45 a.m., Caluya embarks on daily treks to remote homeless camps and transports the kids in his 10-passenger van. Says Caluya, “My mission is to keep the keiki in school, help them enjoy their classes and excel in their academics.

“We need to do more to give back to our underprivileged kids. It’s important for them to be exposed to excellence, no matter what their economic status is,” adds Caluya, who can relate to the children, having lived in more than 30 foster homes in California himself.

It is easy to feel hopeless under dire situations, but “Principal C,” as he is affectionately known, is being hailed by Na Wai Ola staff and parents as the “angel of hope.”

He is quick to point out that he is not fixing all the problems that the homeless face, but rather coming up with his own solutions on the matters that he can influence. Caluya’s philosophy can be summed up with this simple phrase: “A child will not go unfed, unclothed and every student will receive proper discipline and a top-quality education.”

According to Tolentino, a Leilehua High School graduate, that’s what makes his union’s donation of school supplies to needy schools such as Na Wai Ola worth it, because they are making a difference in a student’s life. “Helping the Danny Caluyas of Hawaii fulfill their mission is what gives me and my members chicken skin and goose bumps.”

If you would like to support Caluya’s mission assisting the homeless children in his school, log on to NaWaiOlapcs.org.


EDITOR’S NOTE: We apologize for the inadvertent omission of the complete text of last week’s column about “It’s Academics.” The complete May 7 story continues to be available online at midweek.com.