Friday | November 17, 2017
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Laupahoehoe school cultivating college-prep culture

LAUPAHOEHOE — A grassy plot of land just up the hill on Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School’s sprawling ocean-view campus sits mostly empty now, but within a few months that’s expected to change.

“We have plans for two new greenhouses as well as an additional larger garden space,” school director Romeo Garcia said during a recent tour, gesturing to a small, existing garden near the selected greenhouse spot. “… Because we have a growing farm-to-table program and ultimately our goal is, whatever produce we’re serving in the kitchen is grown on our campus. And we have the capacity to do that, we just need to continue to build.”

The greenhouses are funded partly with grant money from the state Department of Agriculture, Garcia said. They’re slated for construction this semester.

The school is mulling several ways to expand its agriculture programs. It’s looking at bolstering its Korean natural farming piggery, Garcia said, and considering options for repurposing about 10 acres of undeveloped land nearby to offer additional agriculture programs or animal husbandry programs.

The changes are part of a larger-scale effort underway at the 134-year-old charter school aimed at showing students career and higher-education opportunities available to them after graduating.

Garcia said those post-grad opportunities have changed with time. The school was once a “placeholder” for students in the community who “worked in the sugar cane industry one way or another,” he said. Since sugar plantations ceased, the school has worked to redefine its role, he said.

“It’s been gone 30 years but I think the residual effects are still there,” Garcia said. “That shift hasn’t happened in a significant enough way for current-day students — they’re still coming to school and just kind of killing time until they do the next big thing. So we want them to have a sense of, ‘What is that next big thing?’”

Garcia assumed his post midway through last year. He said he’s a charter school founder from Oakland, Calif., with a background in “pre-college preparation” and “working with first-generation college students.”

He said he wanted to bring stability to the small school, which has cycled through four directors since 2012, the year it converted from a traditional public school to a charter school.

The conversion was partly to avoid closure by the state Department of Education due to flagging enrollment. It also garnered some opposition however, and resulted in some longtime staff and students leaving.

Earlier this year, Garcia told the Tribune-Herald he thinks tensions have begun to subside and the “potential of the school is starting to be realized again.” He said community support overall is strong again and enrollment is growing.

About 280 students are enrolled at Laupahoehoe, which includes about 30 who attend online. Administrators want to bolster enrollment to 350 on site in three years, which would bring it to capacity.

“There was a lot of tension at the time,” said Laupahoehoe staff member Todd Otake, who has taught at the school for more than a decade and currently is the agriculture teacher. “But a lot of that tension has since died down as time has passed and people are now coming back. And I think it’s going to work again. It’s taken us five years to get to that point but you can finally feel now it’s going to work again.”

Garcia said he also wants to increase the number of Laupahoehoe graduates who enroll directly in college. He said he’s pushing every Laupahoehoe senior this year to apply to a four-year college.

“Whether or not they decide to go is up to them but they should set that expectation,” Garcia said. “It’s starting early with our students so that they know that this is a college prep school — we haven’t put it on the sign … but we’re prepping you for it.

“It’s getting that college-going culture as a part of what we’re doing here,” he continued.

“So it’s not just ag, it’s not only college and not only four-year college. It’s getting kids to think beyond sugar cane because that’s what they know and that’s what farming is to them. But there are so many other possibilities.”

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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