Kupa ‘Āina students and staff visit Ka‘ūpūlehu Dryland Forest to learn about the restoration efforts there. In addition to learning college-level English and math, the students cultivate a deep cultural connection to their moku (district) of East Hawai‘i.
The Kupa ‘Āina summer bridge program gives aspiring college freshman a taste of campus life, allowing them to live at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo while taking two college-level courses. The Kamehameha Schools Extension Education Services division launched the program in partnership with UH Hilo and Kea‘au High School.
The program began in 2014 with 25 graduating seniors, with the goal of helping them successfully transition to college. Zachary Kakazu and Deja Sherwood were two of those students from Kea‘au who completed the program’s inaugural year.
Kakazu saw the prospect of six free college credits earned over the course of six weeks and he was sold. But after completing the program and seeing the connections he had built, he realized those connections made participating in the program more worthwhile than he could have ever imagined.
“This was a great opportunity, it was amazing,” shared Kakazu. “We got close to the ‘āina. We met new faces, new people. We got stronger connections with people we knew before but didn’t really. We know what to expect for college. It’s a great program.”
Kakazu recognized that after completing the program that he and his peers are entering college better prepared for that rigor than his soon-to-be freshman classmates.
Kakazu plans to major in administration of justice with hopes of becoming a police detective. He made a switch from culinary arts, recognizing that he could help his community while being in a financially stable position.
For Sherwood, Kupa ‘Āina helped connect her with a number of people and gain valuable leadership skills as she prepares to pursue a degree in engineering management to be able to give back to her community.
“I chose to participate because it helps me stay academically involved,” said Sherwood. “Instead of just using my summer to forget things from high school, I’m able to transition easily into college.
“I would absolutely recommend this for future students because it’s a great opportunity. We get the chance to be close with the ‘āina. We get a math and English class and are now one step ahead of everyone else.
“I want to improve things in my community. Whether it be how people look at their community or even as simple as creating a new resource for them, such as structures or mechanics. I just want to uplift people in that aspect.”
Following the summer, UH Hilo lecturer Liam Conway-Nesson reflected on his experience on developing a new academic model for teaching English composition using author Sam Low’s book “Hawaiki Rising” as the primary text for a first-year English composition course.
In his reflection for UH Hilo Stories, Conway-Nesson writes, “My judgment of the success of this summer program and course are biased. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching these students, within this unique framework, and with this text. My own literary and theoretical interests—and personal inspirations—are tied intricately to the goals and values encouraged by Kupa ‘Āina, Malama Honua and ‘Hawaiki Rising.’
“From an objective standpoint and in an attempt to judge student progress thusly, I participated in a double-blind assessment that rated student writing before and at the end of the program. However, this assessment did not measure the degree to which students were inspired by the subject matter; nor did it adequately perceive the undocumented learning that took place in the classroom and experiential learning field.
"To the delight of the administrators, staff and instructors of this program, students succeeded on both fronts—through inspirational and measurable gauges of success. Fortunately for me and the students, Sam Low’s book played a big part in our academic knowledge and cultural inspiration.”
Read the full recap of the model and course development and implementation on UH Hilo Stories.
“The level of rigor and high expectations that made up the curriculum and schedule for the Kupa ʻĀina summer bridge program was nothing short of impressive,” said KS Extension Education Services Director Stacy Clayton.
“All of our students exited with six college credits in English and math plus a deeper connection to their moku and their responsibility to it and for it and a better understanding of who they are as college students, emerging leaders and professionals.
“Kupa ʻĀina is a great example of the impact our collective and collaborative work can make within the DOE. By providing opportunities such as Kupa ʻĀina we not only raise the well-being of Native Hawaiians but also the well-being of the larger community.”
On Friday, July 31, Kupa ‘Āina wrapped up its second cohort of summer bridge participants with a hō‘ike at UH Hilo. Among the students' achievements this summer was an 11-wall Mele Murals collaborative art project they completed earlier this month.
“This program was great. It’s one of the most intense things that I’ve done. The hours are crazy, but in the end it’s all worth it,” said Kakazu. “It’s one of the best things I’ve chosen to do in my life.”
Kupa ʻĀina is a great example of the impact our collective and collaborative work can make within the DOE. By providing opportunities such as Kupa ʻĀina we not only raise the well-being of Native Hawaiians but also the well-being of the larger community.
Stacy Clayton, KS Extension Education Services Director