Project Wai‘ale‘ale puts kids in college

If you make it through the next school year, at least you’ll live seven years longer, said Kimo Perry, project coordinator of the Wai‘ale‘ale Project at the Kaua‘i Community College, Wednesday.

Perry said that figure is a result of research done by an anonymous donor who was responsible for inaugurating Project Wai‘ale‘ale.

A group of 106 students — 55 high school graduates from four high schools on Kaua‘i and 51 adults — will begin the fall semester at KCC with their tuition and books paid for through a grant from the Wai‘ale‘ale Project.

They converged Wednesday at the KCC One Stop Shop for orientation, one of the pre-requisites of the program, where they got to meet each other and gain information on what to expect when KCC doors open Aug. 22, the first day of the fall semester.

“Our program is based on the premise no student should be discouraged from attending college due to financial constraints or other reasons,” said Perry. “The donor of this program did research on people who completed the 13th year, just one year past high school.”

The results were amazing, he said. People who completed the 13th year lived seven years longer, made hundreds of thousands of dollars more, were healthier and had better parking spaces.

The Project Wai‘ale‘ale program provides scholarships and academic support to participants to attain certificates and associates degrees at KCC, allowing Kaua‘i residents an opportunity to attend college for the first time.

Project participants come from referrals from high school counselors and about 25 community agencies who deal with people, Perry said. Among these are the Labor Department, WorkWise, the Queen Lili‘uokalani Children’s Center, Kaua‘i Economic Opportunity and more.

Project Wai‘ale‘ale, with the opening of the fall semester, is entering its second year. The first year completed with 41 students enrolled, about 25 of them high school seniors. At the conclusion of the academic year, they were doing as well or better than the general student population.

These students, having maintained at least a 2.0 Grade Point Average, are eligible for the continuation of the grant for tuition and books.

“The assistance continues until the student attains a degree, or withdraws,” Perry said. “But after the first year, they fill out a financial aid application and as they become more familiar with college and gain confidence, can sustain their educational pursuits.”

Students in the program are offered other support to help overcome academic and other barriers which prevented them from even considering college.

These include a Summer Bridge course and College Readiness summer workshops, a mentoring program and a two-day College Success Camp for students who will graduate high school today.

The goal of these programs, some of which entitle the student attendees to a stipend, is to expose students to the essential values and habits which are intrinsic to an environment of higher education and contribute to academic, career, and personal success, states a KCC release.

“Our scholarship is unique because it is based on a comprehensive commitment to the student,” Perry said. “We don’t just provide the financial assistance. We also work to address other barriers that keep students from succeeding.”

James Dire, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, agreed.

“This is like a dream come true for you,” Dire said. “We want to see you suceed. We have the resources, a superb faculty and a lot of professionals to help you. We’ll do our part if you do yours.”

Lisa Rapozo, a student from the first year of the program, said she was scared to enter the program after being out of high school for 20 years.

“My boss told me about this money which was available and I thought he meant it was for child care for my infant child,” she said. “He wrote me a letter of referral for this great opportunity.”

Perry said the anonymous donor selected Kaua‘i to launch this program, which is being eyed by other institutions around the state, because Kaua‘i has just one college and is small in size with a manageable amount of high schools.

“Our program started small,” he said. “But we’re really aiming at making a large impact on our institution and community not only by providing their education, but actually changing lives by bringing people to college.”

The program was named after Mount Wai‘ale‘ale, Kaua‘i’s highest mountain, known to Hawaiian ancestors as the source of wealth in actual water, money and even educational attainment, the release states.

As the waiwai of Kaua‘i, it is hoped the project adds to the waiwai of its students. The Wai‘ale‘ale Project brings the resources of Kaua‘i together to nourish our growing community.

Visit info.kauai.hawaii.edu/resources/lc/waialeale.html or call Perry at 245-8328 for more information.

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

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