When Mahina Anguay took over the principal position at Waimea High School on Kauai in 2013, she knew she needed to do something to help students and boost the local economy.
Enrollment at the school had declined a whopping 31% in the prior decade as sugar plantations closed and families moved in search of jobs. The area — like most of the island — is almost entirely dependent on tourism. Nearly 60% of the 669 students at the school come from low-income families.
Anguay found the inspiration she was looking for during an education conference in Nashville, Tennessee, that showcased how schools can implement career academies to help students figure out what their passions are, learn critical life skills and graduate with real-life job training. The schools had flexible schedules, exciting workshops and were making an impact with students from all socioeconomic backgrounds.
“I was like, holy smokes. We can do this,” Anguay recalled. “We should do this.”
Education advocates say now is the perfect time to rethink how the state prepares students for jobs outside of tourism.
The DOE is working on a new strategic plan, the state Board of Education has a new chair, a new governor will soon be in office and the turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic is providing plenty of motivation to push for new economic pillars, said David Sun-Miyashiro, executive director of the nonprofit HawaiiKidsCan.
“It doesn’t only happen in the K-12 system, but a lot of it will,” Sun-Miyashiro said. “I think that’s why this is such an advantageous time to think about … are there ways that we can better future-proof this state through a focus on other career opportunities?”
The Department of Education is in the midst of revamping and significantly expanding its career pathway programs from six to 13, in part to create better course standards, but also to keep up with what other states are doing to create not just individual classes but a clear path for students interested in a particular career to follow starting as early as middle school.
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