Punahou gives needy kids a leg up


POSTED: Saturday, January 31, 2009

Plenty of worthy causes appeal for help from the Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation, so when well-endowed Punahou School landed a $3 million gift, it caused some consternation.





        What: Clarence T.C. Ching PUEO Program at Punahou School

Grant: $3 million for 2009-2016


Enrollment: 280 public school students


Purpose: Free summer courses at Punahou plus mentoring to get disadvantaged students on path to college


Partners: Punahou, Hawaii Department of Education, Kualoa Ranch, University of Hawaii Outreach Program, 'Iolani School, the Key Project, YWCA, GEAR-UP and Hawaii Can



“;In these really tough economic times, we have been inundated by requests for grants and money,”; Raymond Tam, a foundation trustee and nephew of the late Clarence Ching, said yesterday. “;When word got out we were making a major gift to Punahou School, eyebrows were raised.”;

But the foundation was persuaded that although the check would be made out to the renowned private school, the money would benefit needy public school students, putting them on the path to college through a public-private partnership known as PUEO, or Partnerships in Unlimited Educational Opportunities.

Started in 2005, the program takes 40 disadvantaged fifth-graders with good academic potential and enrolls them in free courses at Punahou every summer until they graduate. Older students, or “;kumu,”; mentor them.

Precious Totten of Kahaluu, a ninth-grader at Castle High, has been in the program since it started. She has six brothers and five sisters, and college was not on their agenda, but she now plans to become a criminal lawyer.

“;When I was in fifth grade, I was going to become a rock star,”; she said. “;I thought you could be whatever you wanted—I didn't think you had to actually work for it.”;

“;My younger siblings see me doing the PUEO program, and now they want to go to college, too,”; she added.

The curriculum starts with RoboLab, rocketry, marine biology and moviemaking for the first two summers. It moves on to pre-algebra, writing, environmental stewardship, Hawaiian affairs, civics and SAT preparation.

Most PUEO scholars are in the middle of the academic pack at their public schools. The program figures the top 20 percent of students are already headed to college and that the bottom 20 percent are likely to get federal help, said Kenneth Okamoto, a Ching Foundation trustee.

There are now 200 students from 35 public middle and high schools on Oahu in PUEO, and it will reach 280 when it is at capacity in 2011.

The program is designed to supplement the education the students are getting at their neighborhood public schools, not lure them to Punahou, said Kylee Omo, PUEO's assistant director. So far, just one or two students from each group of 40 have moved on to private schools, she said.

Punahou has no hand in selecting PUEO students. That decision is left to their public school principals. Okamoto said that fact helped quell one trustee's concern that it might be “;a recruiting program for athletes.”;

Superintendent Pat Hamamoto said the program opens up horizons that might otherwise be limited for some students.

“;It is giving them the incentive and hope to get to college,”; she said. “;The results can only be a benefit to all of us as a community.”;