Kapa‘a students have tools to build futures

  • Laurel Smith / The Garden Island

    While most students in the Residential and Commercial Construction Pathway are male, young women are leaving their mark in these classes. “The industrial educational technology academy has traditionally been very heavy dominated by males. But we do have several young women that go into those programs,” said Kahele Keawe, instructor in charge of the academy. “The young women (are there) because they have such an interest in, and there’s such a passion for it, they tend to be (some of the) best students.” Here, students prepare cement.

  • Laurel Smith / The Garden Island

    Kapa’a High School students in their second year of the Residential and Commercial Construction Pathway build a shade pavilion on campus.

  • Laurel Smith / The Garden Island

    Participating in a summer internship put Po’okela Fernandez one step closer to fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming a carpenter. “Ever since I was little, when people used to come over and fix my grandma’s house, I (would grab) their hammer and hold it all day with me,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be a carpenter.”

  • Laurel Smith / The Garden Island

    Kapa‘a High students are encouraged to make connections between their academic math classes and real-life applications.

  • Laurel Smith / The Garden Island

    A student grouts one of the columns for the shade pavilion being built by students on the Kapa‘a High campus.

  • Laurel Smith / The Garden Island

    Academy and Early College Director Kahele Keawe is helping pave the way for trades education at Kapa’a High School. “For many years, education has (put) a lot of emphasis on sending students to colleges for four-year degrees. Right now, there’s a shift, not only here in Hawai‘i, but nationwide, where there’s a lot of job opportunity in the skilled trades,” said Keawe.

KAPA‘A — At Kapa‘a High School, students in hard hats wind through corridors pushing wheel barrels of cement and carrying heavy tools.

These teenagers are in the residential and commercial construction program of study, part of the KHS Academy of Industrial Engineering Technology, which gives students opportunities to explore both college and career pathways.

They’re building a shade pavilion for their classmates and earning high-school credit while they’re at it.

This residential and commercial construction course is just one of several programs of study designed with the school’s mission in mind— “(to prepare) all students for college, career, and citizenship of the 21st century.”

Academy and Early College Director Kahele Keawe sees teaching carpentry as one way to set students up with a career that will allow them to have long-term employment in the islands.

“Right now (in Hawai‘i), there are three industries with a lot of high-skill, high-wage career opportunities. The first is health care. The second is skilled trades, of which carpentry is one of them, and the third would be technology.”

This is part of a shift in teaching.

“For many years, education has (put) a lot of emphasis on sending students to colleges for four-year degrees. Right now, there’s a shift — not only here in Hawai‘i, but nationwide — where there’s lot of job opportunity in the skilled trades,” said Keawe.

Keawe believes that training interested students to work in the trades will give kids opportunities to stay in the state, despite the high cost of living.

“Local kids, they want to live and work here. This is a very viable pathway that will allow them to stay here on this island,” he said.

The program is a jumping-off point for students.

Over the summer, KHS students Jonathan Workman and Po‘okela Fernandez completed an internship with Hawai‘i Carpenters Apprentice and Training Fund. This was the first time KHS students have been part of the competitive program that only accepts students after they have successfully completed two years of prerequisites taught in the Career Connections program at KHS.

Through the program, Workman and Fernandez had the opportunity to jump onto jobsites where they got to apply their skills, receive mentorship and earn $15 an hour.

“It was really helpful,” said Workman, reflecting on the internship and the KHS carpentry program. “It gave me a straightforward way of joining the carpenters’ union.”

For Workman, the program also opened the door to finding full-time employment. He graduated earlier this year and is now working for Shioi Construction, the same company that he completed his internship with.

For Fernandez, becoming a carpenter is a lifelong dream.

“Ever since I was little, when people used to come over and fix my grandma’s house, I (would grab) their hammer and hold it all day with me,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez is a senior. After completing his summer internship, he began a two-year internship program with the Ho‘akeolapono Trades Academy and Institute at Kanuikapono Public Charter School. Fernandez attends classes at KHS and works at Kanuikapono in the afternoons. Currently, he is helping install footings for future classrooms.

The program started Fernandez at $15 an hour, and now he is on track to make $25 an hour by the program’s completion.

HTAI Director Lawai‘a Naihe invited Fernandez to the program after he completed the summer internship program.

“I wanted (Fernandez) to come work with us here, so I said, ‘You know, what are you doing?’ (Fernandez) said, ‘I just want to find a job.’ I said, ‘Well, you might learn something, too,’” Naihe said.

The program teaches kids skills that go beyond the jobsite.

Naihe starts each day with a stretching routine with his students. He teaches the kids the importance of taking care of themselves while working a very-physical job. He reminds the kids to stay hydrated and they practice deep breathing. They talk about professionalism on and off the jobsite.

According to Naihe, for students who have struggled to engage with their academics, carpentry provides real-life application for subjects like math.

High-school technical programs like the ones at KHS and HTAI give students who are not considering attending a four-year college another pathway to furthering their education.

“Some students, they get really discouraged. They may want to go (to college) for four years,” said Keawe. “Knowing that they have these apprenticeships or internship opportunities, they can get their foot in the door and get very-valuable work experience right out of high school or after a year or so of community college. And they can set themselves up very well.”

Both Workman and Fernandez plan to continue their carpentry careers on Kaua‘i.

“When the time comes and I become a journeyman, it’s gonna be good fun. And (I’ll) get to share my knowledge that has been given to me with the next generation,” said Fernandez.

This story was updated for clarity at 11:55 a.m. Monday, Sept. 20. 2021.


Laurel Smith, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0424 or lsmith@thegardenisland.com.

  1. RGLadder37 September 19, 2021 12:18 pm Reply

    Wow. So you learning a trade. This kind of jobs are easily found. But physically harder on your bodies. So health wise it may not be appropriate for some. But still yet acceptable to work in.

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