There are an estimated 300 children in Hawai’i believed to be house-less. That, according to a study by Waikiki Health’s Youth Outreach program. The teacher’s union is gearing up to train it’s members to recognize who needs help.
The Honolulu Chapter of the Hawai’i State Teachers Association – the HSTA – sponsored a forum to educate teachers on what houseless children want and need in the public schools. Queenie Marcellino lives at the Pu’uhonua ‘o Wai’anae village. She went from being an F-student to an A-student.
“For the teachers out there, bring in your parent mode. My teacher showed me love and he opened up about how he don’t care and how he was homeless once. So therefore, I started opening up, piece by piece. And that’s how I became non-shameless of where I live.”
Marcellino graduated from high school in 2016. Nainoa Brown-Kahananui also lives at the Wai’anae village and will be a high school junior next year. He says trust is key.
“I had this teacher. He’s actually best friends with aunty. So he came one time to go visit aunty and then he saw me. And then, he started to open up and ask me if I needed anything, just come and ask. And, for that, I actually thank him.”
Aunty is Twinkle Borge, the leader at Pu’uhonua ‘o Wai’anae.
Borge is the guardian, mother, guidance counselor and protector of the teenagers and 23 other children living there.
“I remember one year, when about 7 of our kids, the kids was just ragging them; teasing them. I actually had them make me one assembly. And I wanted the parents there. You know, first of all, what you teach them at home is what they brought to the school. Second of all, that’s not their fault why they’re there today. That’s their parents’ fault. I send them to school for learn and not to play around.
Borge says students need understanding and love and not to be judged, shamed or belittled for how and where they live.
Retired educator, Cathy Kawano Ching, worked with houseless students in Kaka’ako. She recalls an outstanding 3rd grader who was absent because of the weather.
“One week when I came, she didn’t go to school. I asked her why and at first she didn’t want to tell me. And, after a while, she said it’s because it rained. And I said, ‘Oh, you couldn’t get to school because it was hard to find transportation. And she said, ‘no,’ everything I owned was wet. She didn’t have a change of clothes, her homework was soggy. She couldn’t go back to school for the week.”
Ching says teachers need to know the challenges their houseless students face. Laverne Moore is a McKinley High School teacher and HSTA Honolulu Chapter Board of Directors member.
“Once they know the student individually, there is that opportunity to bond. Especially if a child is an immigrant, a child is houseless or a child is going through a divorce. Teachers, once they understand where a child is coming from, they’re very compassionate.”
Moore said the Honolulu Chapter of the HSTA plans to conduct more forums on houseless students for teachers.