Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 10, 2003

Tutu, keiki learning together

By Will Hoover
Advertiser North Shore Writer

HALE'IWA — At 8:10 a.m. Wednesday the traveling preschool van wheeled to a stop at Emerson Hall behind the Lili'uokalani Protestant Church in Hale'iwa. Immediately the teacher and two assistants climbed out and unloaded two dozen containers filled with floor mats, folding tables, story books, building blocks, art supplies, writing tools, costumes, microscopes and puzzles.

Tricia Sojot, right, a Tutu and Me teacher, shows a caterpillar to Tatum Kauka, 3, and Tatum's mother Robyn.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Within 15 minutes the hall had been transformed into a colorful classroom.

Even before "circle time" got under way promptly at 8:30, Makahala Hidano-Kawato was tugging at teacher Tricia Sojot and asking if he could review the previous week's story lesson, "The Quiet Cricket."

Sojot, who was wearing orange feelers on her head, explained that she had left the book at her office, but assured Makahala that he would enjoy this morning's story fare, "There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly."

Makahala, obviously satisfied with that prospect, scampered off to join the circle of adults, caregivers and other children sitting on 9-by-12-foot floor mats, who began the class by singing, "Aloha Kaka Hi'aka."

Welcome to Tutu & Me, a free, federally paid-for mobile preschool aimed at elder members of the Hawaiian community who have increasingly become the primary caregivers of their family's keiki. The reasons cited for this trend are the high value that Hawaiians place on 'ohana and socioeconomic conditions, which can encompass everything from the livelihoods of working parents to the well-being of those with drug-abuse problems.

Regardless of the reasons, the result is more Hawaiian keiki are in the care of their tutu, or grandmas, according to Gail Omoto, Tutu & Me program director.

Tutu & Me

• What: A free mobile early childhood and caregiver-educated program serving primarily Hawaiians.

• Information: For program locations and times, call 524-7633.

The program was modeled after a similar mobile preschool through Kamehameha Schools that was discontinued several years ago, she said, although that plan did not focus on grandparents.

The traveling preschool is intergenerational — meaning that it is set up to build literacy and school readiness for children at the same time that it helps caregivers promote learning activities at home. Adult caregivers are required to accompany and remain with keiki, as well as to participate actively in the program.

Omoto said the goal is to accommodate 50 families at each location and, over time, to expand the number of locations. She said the program's first priority is to assist Hawaiian children whose grandparents are their main caregivers. However, as long as openings are available, Tutu & Me accepts children 5 and younger regardless of their ethnicity or the relation to their adult caregivers.

The traveling preschool visits each of four locations on O'ahu for two hours twice a week throughout the school year.

On Tuesday and Thursday mornings the preschool travels to Pu'ohala and Pauoa Elementary Schools, and on Monday and Wednesday mornings it motors to Makakilo Elementary School and Lili'uokalani Protestant Church in Hale'iwa.

Makahala and about two dozen of his preschool pals attend classes at the Lili'uokalani church, which served as the program's pilot location last April.

Makahala Hidano-Kawato builds a house out of foam blocks with help from his great-grandmother Billie Avis Lee and grandmother Ilima Leong.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

All four preschools function more or less the same. That's not to say, however, that any of them operates like the preschools that many remember.

"This traveling preschool is very different," said Tina Snow, a Tutu & Me assessment specialist. "We have two vans — two teams — each consisting of a teacher and two assistants and each of which loads up a variety of activities, depending on the children and the month. Each month we do a different curriculum, so this month we're talking about insects and bugs."

This day the color was orange, which explains why Makahala's pullover and Sojot's feelers were both the shade of an apricot.

Tutu & Me is financed by the U.S. Department of Education through the Native Hawaiian Family Based Education Act, and is managed by Partners in Development, a nonprofit Hawai'i foundation. The program operates in cooperation with the Association of Hawaiian Evangelical Churches of the United Church of Christ of Hawai'i.

Following circle time, children are free to engage in any of the various learning activities around the room that interest them. Caregivers interact with each other as well as the children. The atmosphere is one of fun, cooperation and mutual learning.

Makahala and his younger brother, Kona, 14 months, are accompanied by their grandparents, Stanley and Ilima Leong as well as their great-grandmother, Billie Avis Lee.

"I come every time," said Lee, 78. "I feel like I've learned as much as they have. We're all learning. Makahala was selfish. Now he's learned to share. I've also learned to share — with other parents. This is a blessing for me, and, I think for all the other caregivers here. It keeps us young."

At 24, Sunshine Williams, a Hawaiian, is one of the youngest adult caregivers at the Hale'iwa traveling preschool. She has attended with her son, Julian, 2 1/2, since Tutu & Me began. Every other Wednesday her husband, Damon, a cook at Waimea Falls Park, is able to join them on his day off.

"The advantage here is that it's a free program and that you, as a parent or guardian, get to stay with your child," Williams said. "I also love it because I get to interact with other adults. I'm a stay-at-home mom, so, other than this, my only attraction is Oprah at 4 o'clock.

"And this is even better than Oprah."

Reach Will Hoover at 525-8038 or whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.