Molokai studentsAT A COASTAL POND in east Molokai, 19-year-old Hazel Lima learns to calculate whether there's enough oxygen in the water for the fish -- lessons in mathematics and science that may be useful as she studies to earn her high school diploma.
finding their roots
Ho'ikaika provides an opportunity
for kids to incorporate Hawaiian
culture in their studies
By Gary T. Kubota
"I think it's really great," said Lima. "It's really helping me out."
Lima is one of 300 students enrolled in Ho'ikaika, a Molokai Youth Opportunity program designed to prepare young people for work, more schooling or starting a business.
Ho'ikaika offers tutoring for all island youths ages 14 through 21.
The project, with $8.2 million in federal funds to be spent in five years, is a part of the Molokai Enterprise Zone, a federal designation that allows the economically depressed island to receive grants.
Molokai has been through several economic setbacks in the last 20 years, with the shutdown of pineapple plantations and the recent closure of a major hotel at Kaluakoi.
The island's unemployment rate in May was 14.8 percent -- the highest in the state.
Ho'ikaika officials are integrating learning with native culture and nature, in view of the large population of Hawaiians on Molokai.
Officials say education through cultural integration seems to work better for many youths who find themselves lost in a western classroom setting.
The fishpond project, a partnership with a nonprofit Hawaiian group Loko I'a, started on June 13.
Officials plan to begin a similar work-study program with the Nature Conservancy at the Moomomi and Kamakou preserves.
Of the 17 youths ages 19 to 21 years old at Ualapue fishpond, six have not graduated from high school.
Ho'ikaika offers them an opportunity to work, earning a stipend of about $300 every two weeks, while preparing to take a test to obtain their high school diploma.
At the Molokai Community Services Council building in Kaunakakai, a small business center operated by the U.S. Small Business Administration has been established to offer assistance to those thinking of starting an enterprise.
"We want them to dream," said Stacy Crivello, the Ho'ikaika program coordinator.
"We want them to appreciate and look at what they have and what they can make happen."
Students in the fishpond program, one of several projects being developed under Ho'ikaika, are required to work 30 hours a week, in addition to receiving five hours of tutoring.
Before placing them into the program, officials assess their educational level in various academic subjects.
Ho'ikaika officials also help them develop job-hunting skills, teaching them how to develop a resume and how to conduct themselves during an interview.
The workday begins at 8 a.m. at the fishpond.
Some students carry rocks to a site where stone flooring is being prepared for a traditional Hawaiian grass shack.
In the 15-acre pond, several students harvest a certain type of purple seaweed used as a garnish in food.
Others test the water to determine its salinity and oxygen content.
Students also develop a rough count of the mullet and awa fish in the pond to determine if there are too many to sustain growth.
Tapeni J. Pele, 18, said he enjoys learning about the principals of building a rock wall and how to determine whether the pond is making a profit.
Pele said he received his high school equivalency diploma about two months ago through the Hawaii Job Corps and plans to enter an apprentice program on Maui for masons.
Other students who are college-bound say Ho'ikaika gives them a broader view of the world.
Mercy Gandeva, 17, a recent graduate of Kamehameha Schools, said the work experience has expanded her awareness about Hawaiian culture and encouraged her to explore the possibility of working outdoors in oceanography and agriculture.
"This program really helps," Gandeva said. "It kind of helps me explore options."
Crivello said she's finding that many Hawaiian youths may have heard about their ancestors raising fish in the ponds along coastal Molokai but few have had hands-on experience doing it.
"Maybe along the way when they were growing up, their culture went to sleep in their homes," Crivello said. "We're still awakening."
Lima said she's looking forward to obtaining her high school diploma. She's considering working as a nurse's aide and perhaps taking college courses.
"I want to see if I can take Hawaiian language," she said.