Fewer Hawaii students are going to college. A trade school in Makaha is offering an alternative

Today, the primary mission is to help Native Hawaiians and residents on the Waianae Coast through trade training in construction and solar.
Published: Jun. 13, 2022 at 3:17 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 13, 2022 at 8:57 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kekai Makepa-Kapahu is ready for his next chapter in life.

“The way I have grown up is like, doors open and close every day,” said Kekai Makepa-Kapahu, who will soon be a senior. “And this just felt like an open door. So I took the opportunity.”

On a recent weekday, Makepa-Kapahu is sitting in a class with other residents in Waianae. Over the past few weeks, they’ve been taking a construction course at the Makaha Learning Center.

“We can provide certifications for people who are looking to get into craft trades,” said Danielle Irwin, president of the center, which started in the valley about a decade ago.

Today, the primary mission is to help Native Hawaiians and residents on the Waianae Coast through trade training in construction and solar.

Makepa-Kapahu said it has been valuable for his future plans.

“I stay in a homeless encampment, Puuhonua o Waianae, which is at the one by the boat harbor,” said Mkepa-Kapahu. “I’ve lived there for about 11 years now, so the majority of my life. And I’ve come to realize that a lot of the people there are stereotyped very heavily.”

He said he’s driven to graduate from high school and jump into the workforce to help his single mom.

“All I want is just to like, support her and help her do what I can for her,” he said.

Makaha Learning Center is offering him that opportunity — along with an alternative to going to college to secure a higher-paying job.

“We offer alternative learning paths for your college is not for everybody, as we’ve been learning over the last couple of decades,” said Irwin.

College-going rates have actually been on the decline in Hawaii since the pandemic, a worrisome trend that’s prompted conversations about how to help kids from falling through the cracks.

Before the pandemic, Hawaii’s college going-rate for public school students was 55%, according to Hawaii P-20. In 2021, it went down to 51%.

In some communities, those numbers are much lower.

Waianae High School’s college-going rate was 36% before the pandemic. Now, it’s only 28%.

Deizel Vistante, who is also going into his senior year, said learning a trade is easier than school.

“I just thought it was a good opportunity for me to start my life after high school,” said Vistante, a student at the center. “I just want to show my family that I can do it on my own, or the people that doubted me can do it on my own. And a lot of people say I don’t got things going for myself, but I actually do.”

And now they have the tools to make that happen.

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