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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Unions teach teens skills at Olomana School

By Adrienne Ancheta
Advertiser Staff Writer

Eight orange-clad boys from the Hawai'i Youth Correctional Facility scattered themselves around an Olomana School portable classroom Monday, eagerly waiting for 9 a.m. to roll around and two cement trucks to roll in.

Students at Olomana School watch professional cement workers build a classroom extension. Olomana asked carpenter and mason unions to work with students to construct the extension.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

As part of their summer construction class, the boys poured cement onto a 30-by-18-foot area that they will build into a classroom extension with help from the carpenters' and masons' unions.

The cement pouring kicked off the second week of a four-week program at Olomana that teaches students vocational skills and helps them earn high school credit while fulfilling a practical need at the school. It isn't the first building project for the school's students, but it is the first in which Olomana has partnered with the unions.

"The notion of involving unions came from many discussions as teachers about how we could teach kids about the real world and the reality of work," said Ellen Schroeder, a teacher and grant writer at Olomana who helped initiate the partnership.

In the first three weeks of the class, the students learn construction basics while building the extension, and in the last week, they prepare PowerPoint presentations based on their daily learning journals.

The class is partially paid for by a work force investment grant received through the University of Hawai'i Employment Training Center, which approached Olomana's principal, Estelle Wong, to inquire about helping with the school's needs.

Wong identified the construction and agriculture summer classes as candidates for the grant, and money was allocated to both.

Building the extension was a particularly strong need at Olomana, especially because its construction and agriculture programs have become more popular in the past few years.

"The classroom has been so crowded that it gets to be shoulder-to-shoulder sometimes," said Wong.

Olomana operates five different schools, one for at-risk teenagers and four for inmates at different levels of incarceration in the Hawai'i Youth Correctional Facility.

The students in the construction class are from the Ho'okipa facility, which detains boys with sentences of a year or less and all incarcerated girls.

Olomana students have worked on other campus projects in previous years, building greenhouses for horticulture classes and renovating classrooms, but this is the first time an entirely new extension has been made and with the help of the unions.

The partnership began last semester when mason Ricky Tamashiro helped one class build a retaining wall for the extension.

Previously, union members came to the school as guest speakers and field trips were taken in conjunction with the unions. This year, Olomana decided to request a full partnership with the unions and have members work side-by-side with its students.

So far the partnership has been rewarding, Schroeder said, because the students respect the union members so highly.

The esteem with which the workers are held is particularly visible on the day of the cement pouring. Teachers Vernon Masuda, Wayne Inamine and Sione Mafoaaeata were joined for the pouring by a few retired and still-employed industrial arts and agriculture teachers and a mason's apprentice.

While the apprentice worked on the cement, three students sat transfixed by how he made lines on the wet cement disappear and transformed the lumpy cement into a smooth, level surface.

"I might take 'em up as one job," said Ernest, one of the students.

After talking with the cement truck operator and watching the mason, he said he wants one of the two jobs.

"I like learn how for build, too," said Alson, another student. "I went heard about the money too, so all good. I recommend this to anybody who like work hard."

Alson and Ernest chose this class because they were interested in careers in the construction field and enjoy the work. Ernest, however, is reluctant to finish the pouring.

"No more hard work after this," he said as he surveyed the more than half-done cement slab. "Kind of boring."