PUEO pushes possibilities


POSTED: Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Natasha Peapealalo and Kaia Kong entered Punahou's PUEO summer program before the sixth grade and have learned about everything from finances, college and career goals to their roles in society. Now entering their sophomore year at Roosevelt and Anuenue, respectively, the 15-year-olds say that five of the seven years dedicated to this experience have been “;eye opening.”;

“;It really made us think about college,”; said Kong. “;I realized how important it would be.”;

An added bonus along the way included a huge boost in their math and writing skills, and the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation with professionals in fields that interest them. Next summer, they'll enroll in an SAT preparation class.

Punahou's Clarence T.C. Ching PUEO (Partnerships for Unlimited Educational Opportunities) program began in 2005, and allows disadvantaged students with academic potential from 14 public schools around Oahu to be nominated by their respective principals to attend Punahou's summer school for free from sixth grade until they graduate. Each year, 40 new students are added to the program, which will reach capacity at 280. It is sustained with private grants and donations, promoting an educational exchange that might not otherwise be possible.

“;Punahou's a private school with a public purpose,”; said Carl Ackerman, director of the PUEO program and an Advanced Placement European-history teacher at Punahou. “;Our main goal is for our kids to be college bound.”;

Peapealalo and Kong will be part of the first graduating class from PUEO, and they will be eligible to obtain an honors diploma, allowing them increased access to scholarships and colleges.

The YWCA recently partnered with Punahou to help teach life skills and career exploration through a program entitled Life, Inc. This included a “;career speed dating day,”; during which 14 YWCA members and guests from 10 professions discussed their career paths with students in a one-on-one environment.

The YWCA got involved for several reasons.

“;The youth programs are a real passion of mine,”; said Marlene Zeug, associate director of Laniakea, YWCA's Richards Street location. “;A lot of it goes back to when I was in high school and trying to figure life out. It can be kind of scary, but relationships and a supportive network can make it less so.”;

Arming youth with new resources as they begin their independent lives is part of the YWCA's objective. And the partnership with PUEO is mutually productive.

“;The YWCA has been more than supportive,”; explained PUEO's Ackerman.

Last month the YWCA hosted the students as they presented their final “;Utopia”; project. During this exercise, they created their own government, constitution, educational system and financial framework—and navigated their own contributions to their ideal society through the professions they had chosen.

Zeug said the exercise helped them polish their public presentation skills and highlight their gifts and talents.

“;It's about 'me participating in democracy, as a contributing member of society ... my role in the greater scheme of things,'”; Zeug said of the students' perspective.

YWCA hopes to expand its network of volunteers willing to share their time and professional expertise with motivated young people in its ongoing program, and it anticipates many more constructive encounters in its alliance with PUEO scholars.