At-risk youth program receives $2.9M grant

  • Hugh Dunn

Students and staff in the Ka‘u-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Area will benefit from a grant that will be used to expand a project that supports at-risk Hawaiian youth in the complex’s secondary schools.

A $2.9 million grant to assist Hawaii Island underserved secondary students recently was awarded to the University of Hawaii.


Hugh Dunn, program director of the Pacific Literacy Consortium in UH-Manoa College of Education’s Curriculum Research &Development Group, received a Native Hawaiian Education Program grant to support Project ‘Aha Lamakua Oia‘i‘o, or ALO.

Education officer and educator for complex area, Iwalani Harris, enlisted the help of Dunn to help supplement and expand projects that will serve at-risk Native Hawaiian youth in Ka‘u, Keaau and Pahoa.

“We talked story, we came up with a theory of action, we cowrote this grant together, and we got funded,” Dunn said in regards to Harris.

Complex Area Superintendent Chad Farias, Harris and other team members worked with Dunn to develop Project ALO, which is meant to support secondary students in their transitions through high school.

The ALO project is designed to ensure the timely completion of courses, promotion to next grade levels, graduation from high school, and successful transition into post-high school college or employment training.

“The bottom line is, we want to make sure at-risk students have a successful transition through high school and are given the necessary support,” Dunn said. “In addition to improving academic outcomes, we want to make sure students have a well-rounded education with a cultural center.”

One of the many goals of Project ALO is to give students the opportunity to engage in Hawaiian culture while they are given context to the things they learn in class.

“We want to find ways to get students excited about learning and provide context to their education,” Farias said. “The hard work is finding what engages students and giving them opportunities to explore what’s happening in their state.”

ALO will target strategic support to underserved secondary students in Ka‘u, Keaau and Pahoa by employing the concept of ma ka hana ka ‘ike — knowledge is gained by doing — and integrating proven culturally-responsive approaches.

The project will deliver services through an array of venues, including one-to-one and small group classroom settings, field trips, community service, retreats, college tours and employment training.

“This is when the hard work begins,” Farias said. “With a grant like this, people see the money but don’t see the years of work by dedicated individuals.”

During a three-year period, ALO’s coordinated services will directly benefit approximately 1,160 students and 800 teachers.


“We developed the program with native Hawaiian keiki in mind, but this is beneficial to all students and their futures,” Farias said.

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