School's Plan Aims High
Kamaile Academy, where just one out of four kindergarten students has preschool experience, will roll out an ambitious plan over the next year to increase sixfold the number of children in its preschool classes -- to 250 from 40 -- and set up a "baby college" to teach new moms and dads how to be better parents.
The plan, taking off thanks to new federal funding, is one of several initiatives at the public charter school aimed at increasing student achievement and fostering a college-going culture in kids -- even before they're out of diapers.
The effort is moving forward as the state looks for ways to improve early childhood education opportunities, especially for low-income families.
Kamaile administrators say any effort to improve student performance won't go very far if students -- and their parents -- don't have strong educational foundations.
That's why they're trying to get families in the door as soon as they can.
"This is a powerful opportunity for our community to make great gains," Kamaile Principal Clarence De Lude said of the plan to bolster early childhood programs at the school. "It's like a conveyer belt: Get them on earlier. We're all raising the children together."
About 90 percent of students at the school come from low-income families.
Many are homeless.
Under its plan, Kamaile will increase the number of children in its three existing preschool sites, including one located near a transitional homeless shelter, and offer programs for children from birth, not just for 3- and 4-year-olds.
The school's "baby college" will be modeled after one at the Harlem Children's Zone in New York City, a recognized leader in improving educational outcomes for at-risk kids.
The program is designed to involve parents more in their children's education and to help them understand how children learn and develop.
At Kamaile, it will be retooled to include cultural elements and to acknowledge the school's sense of place -- not only in the islands, but in Waianae.
Glen Kila, chief executive officer of Kamaile, said part of the baby college concept is designed to convince parents that graduating from high school and going to college is vital if they want their children to succeed. That's not always an easy sell, since some parents haven't finished high school.
"The baby college is educating the parents that all children can go to college," Kila said.
There is also hope that getting parents and students in early -- before they even start kindergarten -- will mean families form a special bond with Kamaile and keep their children there until they graduate. (The school currently has ninth-graders, and will add a high school grade each year until it is K-12).
In the longer term, the school plans to convert its administration building into an early education center, a project that's expected to cost about $1.4 million.
Last week, the school received a $1.3 million native Hawaiian education grant from the U.S. Department of Education to bolster its early childhood education programs.
The school is also getting financial support from Kamehameha Schools and other organizations, and expects to get some money from the $75 million Race to the Top school reforms grant.
KEY SECTIONS of the state's Race to the Top strategic plan focus on early childhood education as a means of improving student achievement.
The competitive grant, which Hawaii was awarded last month, also identifies Kamaile as one of six "priority schools" for educational reforms to boost student proficiency in core subjects, decrease dropout rates and improve teacher effectiveness.
A growing body of research links high-quality early childhood learning with success throughout a person's academic career -- and beyond.
Right now, only 25 percent of kindergarten students at Kamaile attend preschool.
Statewide, 60 percent of students enter kindergarten with preschool experience.
Renee Angeles, 48, whose grandson attends one of the preschool sites at Kamaile, said she's grateful for the program at the school and is happy to hear it's expanding.
Angeles is raising her grandson because her son and her grandson's mother can't. The two were homeless and have now split up, she said.
"My grandson, he looks forward to coming here," she said, as she volunteered at the preschool last week.
Kamaile has 923 students in kindergarten through ninth grade, in addition to the 40 students in its preschool programs.
Despite the challenges of its students, the campus is making gains in test scores and showing improvements in other ways, though administrators acknowledge they still have a long way to go.
About 40 percent of students tested proficient in reading earlier this year, up from 32 percent in 2009. About 25 percent tested proficient in math, up from 19 percent.
The school says its plans to enhance early childhood programs are just one of the ways it's looking to boost student achievement. Kamaile has also extended its school days, required uniforms, adopted new curricula, and offered free breakfast and lunch to all students. Offering free breakfast, administrators said, cut tardiness dramatically.
The school also envisions expanding its on-campus opportunities for earning college credit as it adds grades onto its high school.
Kamaile preschool teacher Dd Chang said she's excited about the initiatives at Kamaile, especially because she is already seeing her children making strides.
"We see phenomenal growth in here," she said.
"What we end up doing is giving them the exposure that they need."
At the school on a recent weekday, Chang is buzzing around her preschool classroom, where there are about 12 special education students.
Children are playing quietly with blocks and puzzles when Chang calls them to a multicolored rug at the front of the classroom.
"Give me a C!" she yells.
"C!" her class returns.
Six more letters follow.
"What's that spell?" Chang asks.
"College!" the children yell back, waving their hands in the air excitedly.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
Story By Mary Vorsino