No Niihau teacher left behind

September 30th, 2009  |  by  |  Published in Campus News

college graduates with many lei

From left, Jennifer Kaohelauliʻi, Laurie Pahulehua and Betty Pahulehua celebrated Kauaʻi Community College commencement in May; two colleagues graduated in the summer

Kauaʻi Community College program brings required degrees to staff on “Forbidden Island”

Proponents of No Child Left Behind legislation probably didn’t have Niʻihau children in mind. But the 2001 federal act evoked an inspirational response at Kauaʻi Community College.

The act requires that all teachers have a bachelor’s degree and teacher certification in order to teach in elementary and secondary schools.

Despite decades of teaching experience, none of the educators at Niʻihau School held such credentials. That could have meant the end of the school, which serves about 45 students in grades K–12, but that eventuality is being averted thanks to the college and a team of community partners.

Led by Kauaʻi Instructor June Sekioka, the Niʻihau Teachers Cohort was established in summer 2004 to help five teachers and educational assistants attain their degrees.

Parents joined teachers and students for a literacy event at Niihau School

Parents joined teachers and students for a literacy event at Niʻihau School

The initiative faced unusual and daunting obstacles. Language and transportation barriers make it nearly unheard of for Niʻihau residents to attend college. Needed in the Niʻihau classrooms, educators could only attend courses on Kauaʻi during summer, winter and spring breaks. With no Internet, cable TV or TV networking available on the island, traditional distance learning methods were not an option.

The solution? Videotapes—hundreds of them—put together by the college’s media technician, Patrick Watase. “Enough to fill up a whole suitcase or more,” marvels Jennifer Kaohelauliʻi, one of the teachers in the cohort.

Kaohelauliʻi, who has been teaching for 19 years, and the other educators watched the videotapes at night, during breaks and even in class. “We would watch some of them with our students, and our students would learn from them too,” she says. “It was so helpful.”

Also instrumental were various Kauaʻi Community College faculty members, who put in late hours helping the teachers prepare for exams, and the Robinson family, owners of Niʻihau, who did everything they could to help with transportation needs. The state Department of Education provided resource teachers to mentor the educators, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs provided generous grants to help pay for books, supplies and transportation.

“The amount of kōkua extended to this initiative has been tremendous,” says Sekioka.

“Everyone has been very helpful and very patient with us,” adds Lulu Kelley, who has been teaching for more than 20 years. “They found ways to make us comfortable, and we’re so grateful for everything they’ve done. We wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for them.”

On May 15, three of the teachers—Kaohelauli‘i, Laurie Pahulehua and Betty Pahulehua—proudly received their associate of arts diplomas during the college’s spring commencement exercises. Two more—Lulu Kelley and Ala Kaohelauli‘i—completed their degrees during the summer.

Next they will work toward their bachelors’ through the Hoʻokulāiwi Program at the UH Mānoa College of Education. The cohort is on track to graduate by 2012 or 2013, at least two years ahead of their deadline for No Child compliance.

“When you think of all they have had to do, it truly is an accomplishment,” says Sandra Haynes, a Department of Education resource teacher who works with the cohort. “To think that they have none of the modern conveniences that we are used to living with, and the effort they have put into this. This truly is what No Child Left Behind is all about.”

And it’s motivation for other Niʻihau residents. “They believe now that they can go for their college degree too,” says Laurie Pahulehua. “They told us they saw us walking up to get our degrees and thought ‘what if that was me?’”

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