HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - If the kids can't come to the classroom, the classroom will come to the kids. At Keaau beach park in Waianae, a traveling preschool teaches youngsters their ABC's and 1-2-3's right along the shoreline. The children – who are under age five - are homeless or live in nearby shelters.
"I think our families deserve every bit of the pre-school that everybody else gets in town. I didn't want to compromise our location and compromise the type of education our families get," says Danny Goya, who heads up Ka Pa'alana, the non-profit group that runs the traveling pre-school.
Dawn Tyquiengco and her four year old son, Kawika, live at a nearby homeless shelter. Without this preschool, Kawika wouldn't get the head start he needs. Tyquiengco says, "Oh, school, I said, 'Yes, I'm going to take him to school', and he likes it."
Tyquiengco's family became homeless three months ago, shortly after their rent was raised. Like many in shelters or who live in tents at Keaau park, they just couldn't afford housing anymore. In fact, new census figures show Hawaii has the highest median rent in the country at $1,293 - more than 400 dollars higher than the national average of $842.
"The economy has really hit people hard here," explains Goya. "We always catch the backlash, and there are more and more families in need."
Poverty in Hawaii is the highest it's been since 1997, and that's had a big impact on little ones. Census figures show the poverty rate among children in the state has jumped to 19 percent. This traveling school is one way to reach out and help educate the youngest living on the streets. Dozens of children come to learn, and about 85 percent of the students served at the pre-school are Native Hawaiian.
The tent and tarps that create the walls and floor of the school are put up four days a week, rain or shine, year round. At the end of the school day, it all comes down. Funding for the school comes from Kamehameha Schools, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, and through federal grants.
Teaching assistant Piilani Victor knows what these parents and children are experiencing. She once lived in a shelter and has three young boys of her own. She's now training to be a social worker.
"It's pretty awesome to service the families where I once used to be. You know, it feels really good to give back to the community, " says Victor.
The hope is these homeless children will someday go to the head of their class, too.