KAIMUKI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When Wenmin He's family moved to Hawaii from China, he barely spoke English. He was quiet and shy.
"We were a poor family in China. My parents had to work really hard to earn a living there," he said.
Teachers at Kaimuki High School saw his potential and steered Wenmin to a program called Kaimuki to College. It turned his life around. Sixty percent of Kaimuki's students come from households with incomes at or below the poverty level.
"So when they hear the word college, there's a lot of doubt. There's a lot of anxiety. Can I really do it?" principal Wade Araki said.
This year, 44 Kaimuki high schoolers took college courses for credit from Kapiolani Community College.
"I think once they realize that they can do the assignments and do it well. I think there's no telling what they can do after that," said Sheldon Tawata, High School Outreach Coordinator at Kapiolani Community College.
Kerwinn Mendoza captained the track team and excelled in the college prep program.
"This year I already have 24 college credits under my belt. That's the most out of all the people graduating. And it's one full year for free. It's an overlooked program, honestly," he said.
Kaimuki pays for the KCC tuitions and course books. Students get a jump start that doesn't cost them a penny.
"The courses I took, they align with the degree I want to pursue, which is political science. So I took world politics, anthropology, psychology," Kaimuki senior Yim Pham said.
Tomorrow Kerwinn, Yim and Wenmin graduate. They are all college bound. Wenmin was accepted to one of America's top undergraduate engineering schools -- Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
"America is a country of opportunity," he said.
Kaimuki to College has been going since 2012. Back then 13 students enrolled. Forty-six are already enrolled for next year.