New tool offered to parents helps prevent child risks

KAPA‘A — Children can be at home and still be at risk, Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona told a large group of parents attending the kickoff Wednesday evening of the Holomua After School program at Kapa‘a Middle School.

“And the greatest time for the risks of (children) getting into trouble is after school,” he said. “The children can be home, the parents can be home, but the children need to be engaged in an activity. They need something to do.”

Aiona joined Kapa‘a Middle School Principal Nathan Aiwohi, Holomua Director Roberta Zarbaugh and other dignitaries, staff and parents in unveiling the Holomua program aimed at assisting and protecting students who are vulnerable to risky behaviors caused by a lack of adequate adult supervision after the school bell rings.

“Most of our middle school students do not have access to after school programs,” Aiona said. “Nationally, studies show that at lease 8 million children and youth are left alone and unsupervised once the school bell rings.”

Aiona said Hawai‘i residents have enjoyed the success of the programs serving kindergartners through sixth grade students, but are now playing catch-up with the after school programs for middle school students.

Operating on federal funds, the Holomua After School program caters to children between ages 11 and 13 and will operate between 2:30 and 5 p.m.

Aiona accompanied his visit with a symbolic check that he presented to Aiwohi. The check represents the state’s share of the program. He noted the program was off to a good start based on the amount of parents who turned out.

“I want to thank all of you parents for showing up,” Aiona said. “You make the difference for a program like this to grow and benefit our children.”

Aiona said without the participation, enthusiasm and interest shown by parents, programs go nowhere.

“We could give a whole bunch of money, but without you participating and being engaged with children, the program isn’t going anywhere,” he said while enjoying the special entertainment provided by the Kapa‘a Middle School Ukulele Band and Chorus.

With the unveiling of the Holomua program, the Kapa‘a Middle School becomes part of a current $2.4 million statewide effort started by Aiona four years ago on a small scale that has grown to benefit more than 4,100 students in 19 of 52 middle schools across the state, according to a press release from Aiona’s office.

That pilot project was at Molokai Middle School and took the name Uniting Peer Learning Integrating New Knowledge, or UPLINK.

Kapa‘a Middle School’s program brings an estimated 100 more students into the UPLINK, increasing the total number of students it serves on Kaua‘i to some 496, or about 12 percent of students statewide that the program keeps off the streets and out of trouble.

“With more and more children growing up in homes with two working parents or a single working parent, our families can benefit from the safe, structured learning opportunities that after school programs provide,” Aiona said. “Our research shows that the middle school years are when students can fall into risky behaviors that could hamper them for the rest of their lives.”

Although the programs in the state are federally funded, it is administered through the state’s Department of Human Services which has worked with the state Department of Education to get the 19 middle schools involved as part of the Hawai‘i Drug Control Plan, which calls for a high-quality after school program that makes students less likely to smoke, use drugs, or engage in sexually risky behaviors.

“We are extremely excited about this wonderful opportunity to help prevent risky behaviors caused by a lack of adequate adult supervision,” Aiwohi said. “This will be a quality after school program that is going to offer a healthy and positive alternative, allowing our students to develop new skills and interact positively with peers.”

Aiona said investing in quality after school programs is necessary for communities like Kapa‘a where a growing number of middle school students have no safe place to go after school that offers the enrichment or recreation they need to succeed.

Addressing the large audience that turned out for the program unveiling, Aiona said, “As long as we have the opportunity to make contributions, we will continue to make them for the children.”

“This (Holomua) program is a tool for you to use to help take away some of the risks,” he said.

“When all is said and done, it’s about how we, as parents, engage ourselves in children’s lives,” Aiona said. “Support makes a difference because it shows you care, and the greatest gift you can give your children is your time.”

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com

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