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Good news for Hawaiians


Ikaika Bantolina, a doctoral candidate in architecture at the University of Hawai'i and the first person in his family to attend college, says he has benefited from affirmative-action programs aimed at bringing more Hawaiians into four-year colleges. He works at one such program, Kua'ana Student Services, at the Manoa campus. A new program will help get younger students through the campus gates.

College next focus for Hawaiians

A new program aimed at shepherding more Native Hawaiians toward successful college careers cleared a major funding hurdle last week, and administrators are gearing up for student recruitment in the spring.

The program, dubbed "500 Hawaiians to College," received $450,000 Thursday from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, leaving its planners, the nonprofit group College Connections Hawaii, with $300,000 still to raise.

Experts point to statistics driving the initiative: Native Hawaiians represent about one-fourth of public-school students, but less than 8 percent of enrollment this fall at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, according to state education figures.

Hawaiians are not the only underrepresented ethnic group, said Amy Agbayani, director of the UH Office of Student Equity, Excellence and Diversity. Filipinos, who make up about 20 percent of the public-school population, account for 7.4 percent of UH-Manoa students.

But Native Hawaiian students in recent years have tapped into programs drawing from various funding sources, and College Connection aims to enroll 500 Hawaiians in grades 8 through 12 in its program and follow them for five years, grooming them for a four-year college education, said Steve Brennan, the group's director of advising.

"We want every Hawaiian to be prepared to go to a four-year college when they get there," said Wren Wescoatt, the organization's executive director.


College Connections Hawaii is not yet accepting applications for its "500 Hawaiians to College" program, but those who want informational updates may call 737-8955.

College Connection is completing plans for a curriculum of counseling, advising and training in skills needed to enter college, from SAT preparation to academic counseling, Brennan said — much like the public-school programs it has run for low-income students since 1999.

The goal is entering a four-year college, Brennan said, where chances are better that students will continue. Nationally, almost half the students who enroll in two-year programs drop out before sophomore year, he said, partly because they discover right away that they're not prepared for college-level courses.

"Education matters; four-year degrees matter," Brennan said. "It's not the only way to get educated, but it's an important way."

The hope is to produce more students like Kawehi Ho'okano and Ikaika Bantolina, who got to UH-Manoa through a combination of effort and financial and social support. Younger Hawaiian kids who face a steeper path to higher education probably will fall off the track, the group's leaders say.

"You definitely should hit them when they're young," said Ho'okano, a junior at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa. She attended Kahuku High School, and credits the extra counseling she received through a special Kamehameha Schools program for steering her toward college.

"If I didn't get this information, I wouldn't have been as interested," she said. "I probably wouldn't have been motivated to go to school."

She and Bantolina, a doctoral candidate in architecture, both work at the Kua'ana Student Services office on campus. And both have benefited from its financial assistance and other programs aimed at retaining Native Hawaiian college students.

Bantolina is the first in his family to attend college.

"I got a gist of what Kua'ana is last semester," he said. "They give tuition waivers — that's a big support for us."

Ku'umeaaloha Gomes, director of the office, said the barriers Hawaiian children face on the road to college go beyond financial worries. The school environment, in addition to being crowded, often feels unfamiliar, she said.

"Look around you: How many teachers are Hawaiian? Children learn by role modeling ... they have come through a system where they haven't been acceptable, and now they're having to raise children coming through the same kind of system," Gomes said.

Kua'ana is one of the diversity programs under Agbayani's supervision as director of the UH Office of Student Equity. Some services it offers — Native Hawaiian tuition waivers in particular — came under scrutiny last year in the wake of key court rulings on affirmative action.

In a case challenging affirmative-action policies at the University of Michigan, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of race as a criterion for admissions, Agbayani said. Still, she said she had noticed programs on campus downplaying the ethnic factor in their promotional brochures.

Meanwhile, many in the community remain convinced that affirmative action is needed to balance persistent inequities. Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Colette Machado, who chairs the group's Beneficiary Advocacy and Empowerment Committee, was instrumental in getting the College Connections funding passed.

Machado graduated from one of the first affirmative-action programs on the Manoa campus, the College Opportunities Program. This freshman-year "boot camp" brings in students from underrepresented groups whose credentials fall a little short of admission. "It took inadmissable students who demonstrated potential given the right supportive environment," Machado said.

That's why she was committed to the College Connections proposal. Most of OHA's educational initiatives have concentrated on programs that help children in the elementary grades, she said, so a boost for Hawaiian kids in middle and high school seemed a logical next step.

College Connections traditionally has worked with disadvantaged children through tutoring and counseling. Its advisers have found that many of the children it sees dismiss college as an option because family and friends have reinforced a negative attitude about higher education, Wescoatt said.

"What we want to do is, with that negative environment around them, we want to give them an extra dose of a positive message," he said.

Machado believes in the power of positive thinking. It helped her overcome failure in high school after early years of disillusionment with education.

"They were already tracking me into a lower setting," she said. "It was almost like they were putting me into special ed. I was thinking, this is not right. So I stopped learning in seventh grade. I missed so much school, my parents didn't know what to do."

By ninth grade she had dropped out. Later, Job Corps training led her to earn a graduate equivalency diploma and led her back to the college track through College Opportunities.

"I was 'most likely not to succeed,' " Machado quipped. In 1974, she graduated with a bachelor's degree in education.

"Given the supportive environment, you can do anything," she said. "I'm a firm believer in that."

Seen at http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2004/Oct/10/ln/ln13p.html


Cross-posted to hawaiians

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