‘It’s just who we are’: Waimea Middle School Delivers 2,000-plus Kokua Kits to students

  • Justin Sargeant harvests avocados for Kokua Kits that will be delivered to Waimea Middle Public Conversion Charter School students. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Sixth grade teacher Janice English prepares a Kokua Kit for a Waimea Middle Public Conversion Charter School student. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Lori Ching prepares a Kokua Kit for a Waimea Middle Public Conversion Charter School student. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Waimea Middle Public Conversion Charter School student Kilo Wong is poses with an uala harvest on May 15. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Kokua Kits are ready to be delivered to Waimea Middle Public Conversion Charter School students. (Courtesy photos/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Kokua Kits are packed for Waimea Middle Public Conversion Charter School students. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Lori Ching delivers a Kokua Kit to a Waimea Middle Public Conversion Charter School student.

COVID-19-mandated school closure and the sudden shift to distance learning has challenged everyone — students, families and teachers. One Hawaii Island school has found an innovative way to connect teachers with students and families and keep the learning happening.

At Waimea Middle Public Conversion Charter School, the solution is Kokua Kits. School ohana pooled resources from community partners, teachers and staff to take what they did well with a weekly Wednesday Envelope that goes home to families with important communications, and converted it into deliverable hardcopy packets with a snack to “kokua” its kids and families.

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Since March 30, Waimea Middle School staff has delivered a Kokua Kit weekly to every one of its 265 students. In all, more than 2,000 kits have been assembled and delivered to homes scattered across the 14-plus-mile-wide district.

Kokua Kits started out small — a snack and essential paperwork.

They improved with time to include age-appropriate books of fiction, seeds, uala (sweet potato) slips to plant with instructions, about 120 used Chromebooks to give out as needed, and something delicious harvested from Malaai School Garden including avocados, loquats and herbs for tea.

In lieu of May Day festivities — a nearly 100-year Waimea tradition — ribbon lei-making kits were created so students could make a lei for a loved one. And heading into summer, sixth and seventh grade English Language Arts teachers assembled the materials to send home a DIY Scrabble game for each student because they knew students “love Scrabble” — looking up words in the dictionary to beat their friends, and perhaps not realizing they were simultaneously improving spelling and vocabulary.

And always what students came to count on in every Kokua Kit was a yummy snack from a local vendor.

Delivering the kits became the thing to do for teachers and staff, of course always wearing a mask and maintaining social distances. Teachers and staff took turns just to see students wave and get excited to see people they miss as their kit was delivered.

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Kokua Kits have become “the connecting agent.” With more than 2,000 kits prepared and delivered over the past eight weeks, teachers have seen an increase or steady number of students logging in to Google Classroom (a student-safe online learning platform), as well as reading and completing assignments — even though it’s all voluntary. Also, families have expressed gratitude for the caring they feel, and for the food and enrichment support.

“We care about our kids and families and it’s our kuleana to be a community resource. We are here for our kids now, next year and beyond high school — in good times and bad. It’s just who we are,” said WMS principal Janice English.

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