Not your typical classroom

Barefoot, in a building just yards from a shock green taro field and waterfall-drenched mountain peaks, three adult students huddled behind computer screens.

Seated at makeshift desks at Hale Halawai Ohana O Hanalei, a longtime community and culture center, they settled in to learn how to navigate Microsoft Word, the leading document and word processing software.

“Why do they call it a cursor? Because that’s what you do at it all the time,” said Chris “Angus” Sweitzer, a Kauai Community College computer literacy professor.

It was the first of a four-session continuing education class. On the syllabus: Pop up windows. Task bars. Right clicks. And spell check, which Sweitzer explained appears as a squiggly red line beneath the words you type that the computer doesn’t recognize.

“That would have a lot of fun with pidgin,” said U’i Ito, a fruit farmer from Kilauea.

On the first day of one of the first continuing education classes ever to be taught at Kauai Community College’s newest satellite location in Hanalei, Ito announced that she has never taken a formal computer class.

“I just need to familiarize myself with modern technology,” she said, adding that proficiency in Microsoft Word will help her manage her fruit business.

KCC’s new Hale Halawai partnership allows North Shore residents the opportunity to learn, explore and boost their career skills without having to make the hour-long drive to the main college campus in Lihue.

During a debut course offered last month at the new location, the classroom was full of North Shore residents, including taro farmers, fresh off the field, wearing rubber boots.

There are two opportunities for tuition assistance. Native Hawaiians who meet specific income requirements are eligible for funding through the Hoowaiwai Project. Some classes are also approved for Employment and Training Funds, which gives students a 50 percent tuition break so long as the other half of the tuition cost is paid for by the student’s employer.

Kati Conant, who teaches a basic drawing class and is Hale Halawai’s executive director, said the program is also seeking private donations to help more people afford tuition. The cost of enrollment is the biggest barrier to increasing class sizes, she said.

“A lot of the people who really need the classes cannot afford them,” Conant said. “The goal is to try to help the local community strengthen their work skills and help them find placement.”

Mike Ching, property manager of Ching Young Village, said he enrolled in the Microsoft Word class for personal and business reasons.

“I’m from the older generation,” he said. “We just did basic letter writing, but now there’s a lot more.”

One of the biggest draws of the Hanalei satellite is it’s location.

Janet Teves of Princeville said she never would have chased an opportunity to brush up on word processing if it meant driving to KCC’s main campus in Lihue.

Even Sweitzer, a longtime KCC professor, enjoys the change of scenery — so much so that he took a photo on his cellphone of the green ridged mountains outside the classroom door and sent it to his mother on the Mainland. He included a note: “Hey, look at my classroom!”

“There’s a need for basic computer literacy here like, ‘What’s this mouse thing?’” Sweitzer said. “We now have a classroom to meet that need with green around us instead of classroom buildings around us. We now have the beautiful, fresh Hanalei air instead of air conditioning.”

After demonstrating so many Microsoft Word functions, hacks and tricks, Sweitzer decided he better show the class that the world isn’t over if you make a mistake. Like mistakenly deleting the best line of prose you’ve ever written.

No need to break into a cold sweat. You can get it back, he assured the class.

Standing before an overhead projector illuminating an oversized, blank Word document, Sweitzer pointed to the undo and redo icons.

“This is your best friend,” he told the class of three. “It’s a wonderful way to save your sanity.”

“Too much to play with,” Ito called out. “It’s scary. I never knew there was all this stuff. Yikes.”

Ito tinkered with the function, making the subject of the sentence she had typed out on the computer screen disappear and then reappear again.

“You’re learning enough to be dangerous,” Sweitzer told her. “That’s what it’s all about.”

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