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Businesses Support Public Schools

The New Helping-Hands Equation: Money + Volunteers x Expertise – Red Tape = Smarter/Motivated Students

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     Photo: Ryan Siphers

The new track at Lahainaluna High School on Maui, along with the field and turf, have been made possible because of millions of dollars worth of in-kind and cash donations by Maui businesses and residents. Additional changes are coming in the future.

Athletic facilities at Lahainaluna High School, Hawaii's oldest public school, were so inadequate that track athletes had to leave the West Maui campus and train in Wailuku. And an inordinate number of students were getting injured.

The state was unable to pay for a new outdoor stadium and facility, so individuals and businesses stepped up. Part-time resident Sue Cooley started the ball rolling by pledging donations that have now totaled more than $4 million. Hawaiian Dredging prepared the site with more than $50,000 worth of work. Maui Westin Resort and Spa offered a $300,000 package of rooms to house the workers from Texas who installed the turf, although the full amount wasn't needed. Dozens of others also chipped in.

     Evan Watarida of Central Pacific Bank volunteers at Kalihi Uka
     Photo: Courtesy of Junior Achievement

"Without the support of local businesses, it wouldn't be the same," says Jeff Rogers, development coordinator for the Lahainaluna Foundation, which has raised more than $5 million for the school since the foundation's birth in 2002.

Various versions of that generosity are taking place all over the state as businesses donate money, workers and volunteers to help public schools and their students.

It's impossible to add up all the donations, but the results can be seen in painted schools, new playgrounds, renovated classrooms and science labs, landscaping, and donated books. Volunteers read to children and school supplies are given to youngsters who can't afford them. And much of it is done without public money or even much public notice.

The state Department of Education tracks donations amounting to $500 or more – those have totalled $25.19 million statewide since 2000 – but that's only the tip of the iceberg, says DOE official Judy Nagasako.

     Walter Lott, Honolulu Walmart store manager, poses with
     principal Ann Mahi and students Brent Shigano and Kristi
     Nakashima in Roosevelt High’s new science lab.
     Photo: David Croxford

"Many companies have always given donations to schools to help them. But, increasingly, they're coupling their philanthropy with company volunteers. They're encouraging employees – even rewarding them – for taking an active role in volunteerism. That's the trend," says Nagasako, the department's education specialist for corporate and community partnerships.

The DOE encourages schools that have strong alumni bases to create private foundations and Lahainaluna, McKinley, Roosevelt, and Farrington high school alumni have each set up foundations. Help also comes from alumni associations – often lead by graduates who have become business leaders in the community. Take Roosevelt High, for example.

"Our robotics club is going off to an international competition, and the alumni association donated $5,000 to help with the robots and travel costs," says Roosevelt principal Ann Mahi. "As well, Dwayne Nasu, president of Acme Fender & Paint Shop, a 1969 grad, made a personal donation of $5,000 to help. They're all looking at the broader picture of supporting student achievement."

A few months ago, Walmart gave $100,000 to the Public Schools of Hawaii Foundation. It was a big gift for the 25-year-old foundation, which expects to raise no more than $200,000 to $300,000 a year, mostly from a fundraising dinner at which Hawaii businesspeople buy tables.

     Ameriprise Financial employees volunteer at Kalihi-Waena
     Photo: Courtesy of Junior Achievement

Walmart's donation allowed the foundation to allocate $250,000 to transform an existing classroom at Roosevelt into a modern science lab. It will be completed before the end of this school year. The foundation also plans to spend another $75,000 for professional development for science teachers.

The donation came because of a vote by the Walmart employees, says Nolan Kawano, executive director of the public schools foundation. "Walmart has a choice program and they informed us last year we were nominated. We went up against several nonprofits (for the funding) and the winner was chosen by a direct vote of their employees."

Stephen Schatz, district superintendent for the Roosevelt complex of schools, welcomed the project. "If we want to prepare our students to be globally competitive, they need top-notch, state-of-the-art facilities."

It will take an estimated $27 million to renovate and update all the science labs in the state's 46 high schools, and the state is unlikely to finance all those improvements soon. That makes the business/school partnership crucial.

"We can't do it alone," says Schatz. "We need financial assistance to get work done. Working with businesses allows us to be a little more nimble with our resources."

When the money comes from a foundation – not through official DOE channels – the work can proceed far more quickly, even though the department must still approve plans, he says.

"It just couldn't happen this quickly if we were going through the typical repair cycle. There's no way that, in nine months, you'd get a big project like this accomplished."

     Click to enlarge image.

The public schools foundation helps in other ways. For instance, it spends as much as $300,000 a year on an average of 70 "Good Idea Grants" for teacher projects, which range from $1,000 to $3,000 each.

Help for Hawaii's public schools comes in many forms: It's not unusual to find Hagadone Printing Co. employees reading to students at Puuhale Elementary in Kalihi. Or Deloitte accountants spending a Saturday cleaning a schoolyard. Or the electric company setting up summer internships for high school and college students.

"This makes sense to support our schools," says Faye Chiogioji, manager of workforce services for Hawaiian Electric Co. "It's good business, too – to develop the workforce with the skills we need."

Employees from the Old Lahaina Luau collect and deliver truckloads of school supplies to Maui schools every year. "Last year, we did something different: We called the schools on the west side and asked what were the top five supplies they needed and we made up our own kits," says Julie Yonayama, director of employee and community relations.

"We had 387 boxes of pencils, 387 reams of copy paper, 387 rolls of paper towels, 1,935 composition books and 1,935 portfolios. Mainly our goal is to donate to several schools. Those are our future employees."

"You think of the long term," says Ian Kitajima, spokesman for Oceanit, a high-technology company that coaches robotics teams and mentors students in science projects. The Public School Foundation recently honored the company.

"In 20 years, it (technology) is really going to be changing Hawaii. When you see what kids can do, you just feel like, 'Wow, they're really good.' And you know you just have to help," says Kitajima. "It's kind of like our farm team for baseball. We're building up our talent for the future."

On average, 50 Oceanit employees mentor in the schools every year, averaging 40 hours per month. "A lot of this is driven by our people. They want to do it," says Kitajima. "Essentially, we've adopted Maemae Elementary School – or they've adopted us – and we've been working with the teachers there."

Oceanit's total reach annually: more than 400 students, not counting the 20,000 households watching "Weird Science with Dr. V" every week. To date, Oceanit has produced 150 of the science shows that have aired on Hawaii News Now.

In its 26-year history, Oceanit has sponsored more than 250 summer internships, primarily for college students who work with company engineers on real projects.

"A lot of us went to public school," says Kitajima, "so we're always trying to figure out how can we help. And you help as many kids as you can because one of those kids may come up with the cure for cancer. Or the key for alternative energy or global warming.

"When we first got into robotics I was skeptical, because we don't do it at Oceanit. Then I realized it wasn't about robotics. We're not building robots. We're building future leaders. It's just a metaphor for building thoughtful young people who will lead us into the future."


Hawaii Business magazine invites you to comment on our articles and the issues they raise. Comments are moderated for offensive language, commercial messages and off-topic posts and may be deleted. Some comments may be chosen for inclusion in the magazine on the Feedback page.

Jul 1, 2011 10:47 pm
 Posted by  Zootela


Your article exemplifies businesses succeeding in implementing the Aloha spirit and should be a success model shared throughout the country. Instilling pride within corporate communities and self-worth within the school system is a major achievement. Small business owners should follow suit on a micro level and seek out opportunities to participate. The costs are minimal when long term loyalty is reciprocated by its future business leaders.

Max Terronez, President, Zootela Hawai

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