Hawaii High School Introduces New Academy Learning Center

According to Department of Education superintendent and former Waipahu High principal Keith Hayashi, the Integrated Academy Learning Center at Waipahu High School brings together various career academies in one building, a first in the state. Hayashi made this statement during the center’s opening last month.

This new three-story building houses two out of the six career pathways offered at the school, namely the culinary and natural resources academies.

Hayashi stated, “It’s an opportunity to integrate academy design and focus on purposeful learning that’s relevant, rigorous, industry-connected, and prepares students for post-high school life.”

According to principal Zachary Sheets, all students at Waipahu High School are enrolled in a career academy. They take core academic courses while gaining practical experience in their future careers. Sheets hopes that by their senior year, most students will have career-related internships.

Hayashi expressed his hope that the building will foster teamwork among students across the academies, developing their collaborative skills for their future careers.

The planning for the $29 million learning center began around 2016 in collaboration with the Department of Education and architectural firm WRNS Studio. The center’s design includes hydroponics and aquaponics on the lower levels, along with a dining room and teaching kitchen on the top floor. Students in the natural resources academy can provide produce to their peers in the culinary pathway, who can then prepare and serve the food within the same building, explained senior associate Rochelle Nagata-Wu.

In addition to promoting collaboration within the high school, the principals also aim to establish partnerships among schools in the Waipahu complex.

Department of Education Superintendent Keith Hayashi delivers the special message during the blessing of the Waipahu High School Integrated Academy Learning Center Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, in Waipahu. The center offers students the opportunity to learn trades and skills. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

According to Sheldon Oshio, the principal at Waikele Elementary, exposure to careers should commence at an early age. In this regard, even kindergarten students in his elementary school take classes that align with the professional pathways available at the high school. Many of these students subsequently attend Waipahu Intermediate School, which offers elective classes that can guide their academy choices in high school.

Waipahu Intermediate School principal Alvan Fukuhara also stated, “If a student is coming to Waipahu, they have a lot of opportunities.”

At Waipahu High School, students have the chance to switch academies once. Nevertheless, Hayashi hopes that the academy experiences provide them with valuable professional skills and experiences that will benefit their future regardless of their chosen career path.

Hayashi referred to the new building as a “cultural shift” that raises expectations for student achievement and also raises community expectations for public schools.

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