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Woodwork class at Olomana School to help high school students transition into college

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MAUNAWILI, Hawaii -

It’s a class rooted in ancient Hawaiian values that has become a gateway for high school students transitioning into college. 

Youth who've faced challenges in the past are embracing the popular program at Olomana School.

"For me, it's kind of soothing because we're breathing in his strength and he's breathing in my strength," Chaz Rios-Billaber, student enrolled in the class said. 

16 year-old Rios-Billaber looks forward to soaking in whatever he can in woodwork class. The course teaches students how to put together traditional Hawaiian crafts: poi pounders, boards and fish hooks. Everything is made by hand. 

"It's not just something that looks nice, it has a purpose... Just give it lots of love so it has that feeling that I accomplished it," 15 year old sophomore Isaac Santiago said.

The pilot program launched in partnership with Windward Community College and allows students to earn three college credits. It's geared toward giving youth who've run into problems, a head start after graduation. 

Instructor Ryan Olivares kick started the class in January and says it has instilled key virtues.

"Especially with the Pohaku, pounding it with another stone like the back of a hammer. The first week they were like oh this is taking so long, now they're like oh! patient and they just bloom from there," Olivares said. "

Rios-Billaber says the class helped him reconnect with his grandpa who specializes in fish hook carving. 

"I told him that I had this class and he was all happy and he said oh you can teach me some stuff that I learned in here and he can teach me," Rios-Billaber said. 

Majority of students at Olomana are of Hawaiian descent. Olivares says faculty structured the course around Hawaiian values. But each lesson is also tailored to coincide with other school subjects. 

"You can apply to everything science: motion, velocity, culinary, why are you smashing taro, what happens in the taro, all the break down...The hook engineering comes into play, structure, force. Each hook has to carry a minimum of 100 pounds, the ones that they make and if they break, sorry," Olivares said. 

It seems to be doing the trick. Malakai Kamekona Kipapa's borderline GPA climbed above a 3.0 this semester. His progress motivated him to take on a whole new approach. 

"Before I used to be rascal, like I didn't listen to nobody but now I can help people... Make them follow what I'm doing, lead them to a good path, not the old path," Kipapa said. 

A never ending push to inspire Hawaii's keiki to look to the past to guide them in the future.