‘ELE‘ELE — Uilani Corr-Yorkman is fulfilling a lifelong ambition to open a culturally based preschool that she says is sorely needed on Kaua‘i’s Westside.
Set to open on Aug. 1, 2013, the Haloalaunuiakea Early Learning Center is a nonprofit preschool designed to be affordable and to prepare kids for a rewarding education.
Registration for the standards-based curriculum with a foundation of Hawaiian culture, beliefs, traditions and language will begin on Jan. 1.
“What is going to be different about us is that we will align our curriculum with the Department of Education standards and benchmarks and general learner outcomes that the DOE uses for students in school,” said Corr-Yorkman, executive director. “We are not going to be an immersion school. We are going to be an English language school that is based on Hawaiian values and culture.”
The school will have five different learning modules, including math, language arts, science, social studies and an outdoor center. The school is not about baby-sitting kids, she said.
The first year will start with 3- and 4-year-olds. A class for 5-year-olds will start in 2014-15, when the Department of Education changes the birthday cutoff to enter kindergarten from Dec. 31 to July 31. Children turning age 5 after July 31 will have to wait an additional year.
A third year of pre-school is an opportunity to ensure kids will excel in kindergarten, Corr-Yorkman said. Preschool allows for self-paced progress to prepare slow and fast learners.
“I have worked in kindergarten classrooms and have seen firsthand the difference between a child that comes from a preschool, from a child that has been at home for five days a week,” she said. “It can be the simplest thing, from not knowing how to stand in line, or write their first and last name, or identify numbers and letters in lower and upper case.”
The school name is based on the kalo patch where Corr-Yorkman’s father grew taro. Haloalaunuiakea translates to the kalo plant that sustains a community, she said, and for the school it means learning provider.
The mission is to provide “safe, affordable, quality early education services based on Hawaiian cultural practices, values and beliefs for children of working families,” she said, adding that it is to teach the ideals of ‘ohana, with ho‘ihi, and the ancestral way of the village raising a child.
“Our goal is to instill in children what our kupuna instilled in us,” she said. “We are giving them that mindset and preparing them to go through life with that feeling of ho‘ohiki with respect and kuleana.”
Preschool tuition often exceeds a family’s ability to pay. As a nonprofit preschool, Corr-Yorkman it will work to assist families in making the commitment to their children.
“We know how hard it is to be a working family,” she said. “Because we are a nonprofit, everything is going to go back into the school.”
Waimea resident Corr-Yorkman is a graduate of Kamehameha Schools and earned her bachelors degree in elementary education, and a masters degree in education technology from the University of Hawai‘i.
For the past five years she taught kindergarten through eighth grade, and currently teaches Kamehameha Hawaiian curriculum and inter-session programs while completing an early childhood certification through Kaua‘i Community College.
Phyllis Kunimura, director of Kaua‘i Independent Daycare Services Inc. (KIDS) in Kapa‘a, is a mentor to Corr-Yorkman. The school has served as a model of an affordable preschool for 80 students for 21 years.
“I am very excited for (Corr-Yorkman) and I think this is great for the community,” Kunimura said. “The Westside definitely needs this and the timing is good.”
Kunimura said research shows that 90 percent of emotional and cognitive thinking skills are developed between the ages of birth and 5. Imaging technology supports this research, and shows that the early years are the most important to establishing a foundation for lifelong learning, she said.
“If a child starts kindergarten behind, then they are constantly catching up,” Kunimura said. “Parents and preschool teachers are hugely important with the new standards and expectations.”
The money is not there yet for universal preschools but the state is moving in this direction, and an enormous need is coming for certified preschool teachers, she added. Building a foundation with a focus on early childhood education and parenting classes will help prevent so many problems later on, she added.
Two teachers aides have already been hired and Corr-Yorkman said two more certified early childhood educators are needed.
The school will accept Kaua‘i Keiki Scholars, PATCH Gives and First to Work program participants in the second year. Grant applications are in the works to help offset tuition costs for qualified families.
Average earning families are caught in the middle, Corr-Yorkman said. They are trying to offset tuition for families that cannot afford it on their own and don’t qualify for assistance.
“It makes a huge difference,” she said.
Finding the facility was a major hurdle for the new school to overcome.
Keith Ching, property manager and senior vice president for Coldwell Banker Commercial Pacific Properties, said it was a chance fishing meeting with Corr-Yorkman’s stepfather, Kalei Van Geison, that led to a mention that she was scouting locations to start her pre-school.
Ching and Tristen Daniel, a commercial brokerage and leasing agent, met with Kunimura to determine what is needed for a similar program.
“It was a great meeting and an opportunity to tour the facility to get an idea of the physical requirements needed,” Ching said.
“A lot of people in the community support Uilani and are helping to make her dream of supporting the children come true,” Daniel said.
PATCH, Good Beginnings and other nonprofit organizations serving children also validated the concept and the need for the school on the Westside, Ching said.
Corr-Yorkman prepared her business plan for Coldwell Banker, and Ching said the concept discussions continued with Ele‘ele Associates Inc., comprised of N.F. Kawakami Store Ltd., Commercial Properties Ltd. and Furugen Family Partnership.
A commercial transaction matches an ideal tenant with an appropriate business model to the right property, Ching said.
As the managing agent and leasing agent for Ele’ele & Associates, he said Charlie Kawakami, Derek Kawakami and others responded to the idea and the Ele‘ele site was identified. It is located at 4402 Waialo Road.
The vacant former Big Save Value Center office building has sat unused since the grocery store chain was sold to Times (QSI, Inc.) in 2011. The office property is still owned by Ele’ele & Associates.
After credit checks and a meticulous review process, Ching said a long-term relationship between landlord and tenant was established. Both parties made a substantial financial investment, which he said makes a strong foundation for success.
With 4,322-square-feet, Ching said the space is ideal to covert into a school. It will require a little tender loving care.
“A free rent period was afforded the tenant to do their tenant improvements,” Ching said.
The management removed large, old coconut trees to eliminate a liability risk as well as future expenses. Prior to opening the school, workers will remove a wall, paint inside and out, install new carpet and flooring, and put in additional toilets and sinks for kids.
The property owners “have been really generous and wanted to help the community on the Westside in a big way,” Corr-Yorkman said.
She would eventually like to install a certified kitchen. Until then, they will offer morning snacks and kids will bring their own lunches.
The school is accepting monetary and material donations and looking for volunteers. For more information call 346-7928 or go to Facebook/haloalaunuiakea.