The University of Hawaiʻi was awarded $2.3 million by the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation to help increase the number of low-income and first-generation middle and high school students in the Windward Oʻahu community in postsecondary education.

The Soar Higher grant will support activities to build college and career aspirations, increase academic readiness, and provide support to students in navigating their educational journey. The grant aims to help eliminate achievement gaps among groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education.

The grant builds upon the success of GEAR UP Hawaiʻi, a statewide grant from the U.S. Department of Education to improve access to and success in higher education at high-poverty middle and high schools statewide. GEAR UP Hawaiʻi has been serving Hawaiʻi’s low-income youth since 2000, impacting an estimated 35,000-plus students statewide.

“We are committed to working with partners to advance educational equity in the Windward Oʻahu community,” said Stephen Schatz, executive director of Hawaiʻi P–20 Partnerships for Education. “This is going to be a team effort, and we will focus on students who need help the most.”

“We know the best path to household stability runs through a two- or four-year degree. But it’s still far too difficult for young people to get to and through college. We hope this four-year investment will double the number of public school graduates in Windward Oʻahu that earn a degree or certificate,” said Alex Harris, vice president for programs at Harold K.L. Castle Foundation.

Reaching new heights

Under the Soar Higher grant, the Windward community will utilize a coordinated, regional grades “6–16” approach to provide students with developmentally appropriate support to help them successfully complete high school, then enroll and persist in college. Windward area high schools will work with their feeder middle schools and Windward Community College to develop and implement a vertically-aligned, comprehensive college and career program that will provide counseling and support for students to explore career interests, improve their academic preparation, engage in work-based learning opportunities, and ultimately transition successfully through the 6–16 pipeline to eventually attain their career goals.

“Our goal is to empower our students with the knowledge and skills they need to create their own post-secondary plan,” said Bernie Tyrell, principal of Castle High School. “We are grateful for the generous support of the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation to continue this work that we have started in building career pathways, and we will use these funds to support the implementation of our plans so that our students can succeed after high school.”

“Through Soar Higher, Harold K.L. Castle Foundation has brought us together to support our ʻopio, this next generation, to achieve their career goals through education. This not only leverages the strengths of our Koʻolau communities, where we all work together to create better tomorrows for our children, but also grows the dreams of our children, which are the dreams of what we will become as communities,” said Windward CC Chancellor Ardis Eschenberg.