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As his first project in the trades course, KS Maui senior Paʻani Yap builds a stool under the watch of kumu Ralph Canto Jr.

KS Maui launches trades program post-Lahaina fires

May 2, 2024

In the wake of the Lahaina fires, Hālau ‘o Kapikohānaiāmālama, the summer and extended learning division at Kamehameha Schools Maui, found unexpected significance in their newly established trades program.

In its inaugural Spring session, the course teaches juniors and seniors construction fundamentals and skills in partnership with the Hawaiʻi Carpenters Apprenticeship and Training Fund. Through this initiative, which had been in the works for two years, KS Maui caters to the diverse paths of its haumāna while cultivating local talent for its island community.

“We want our students to be successful, contributing members to our communities,” said Jay-R Kaʻawa, the extended and summer learning head at KS Maui. “Having this program gives them more options for their future.”

Teaching the course is Ralph Canto Jr., a retired contractor whose daughter was a part of the first graduating class at the ‘Aʻapueo campus. Having served on the original Maui campus construction crew in the 1990s, he has come full circle as a kumu.

“I watched my daughter grow up as this campus grew; it was amazing!” Canto said.

With aspirations to enter students in a statewide carpentry competition next year, Canto sees the program as an opportunity to give back to Maui’s youth. Meanwhile, students like Paʻani Yap view the program as a chance to gain valuable skills that will help them in the future.

The night of the Lahaina fires, Yap’s neighborhood flooded with family members and friends seeking refuge from the violent flames. As someone who grew up in Lahaina and moved to Nāpili, he had almost a dozen or so people staying at his house since leaving their beloved town. To make room for his affected kin, he hopped around at different friends' houses to stay close to school and focus on his studies. Despite the challenges, he recognized the importance of learning a trade ahead of the impending rebuilding efforts.

“There will be a lot of construction coming, so learning a trade like carpentry and using tools is a good trait to have for the circumstances we are facing now,” Yap said.

While the senior dreams of becoming a firefighter inspired by the bravery witnessed during the wildfires, he finds solace in the stability the program offers.

“I want to be a leader in my community and make sure everyone feels safe,” Yap said. “I strive to work towards that in this class and whatever I do.”

Kaʻawa has witnessed many conversations about what’s next for Lahaina and how much residents want to help. Ultimately, she envisions that this curriculum will be well established so that students can seamlessly transfer into the local union’s apprenticeship program, allowing them to remain home and contribute to the recovery efforts.

“If this is your plan for the future, then it’s our job to support it,” Kaʻawa said. “I think this program allows our own people of Maui to be more equipped to help their community.”

With its focus on skill-building, resilience and community service, the trades program at KS Maui emerges as a beacon of opportunity in the fire’s aftermath.

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