Hawaii High School Opening New Academy Learning Center

The $29 million center aims to promote collaboration among students on different career pathways.

Waipahu High School’s new three-story building accommodates students in its natural resources and culinary academies. (Kevin Fujii/Honolulu Civil Beat)

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Waipahu High School’s Integrated Academy Learning Center brings together different career academies under the same roof, a first of its kind in the state, Department of Education superintendent and former Waipahu High principal Keith Hayashi said at its opening last month.

The three-story building accommodates the culinary and natural resources academies, two of the six career pathways available at the school. 

“It’s an opportunity to begin to integrate academy design and really focus on purposeful learning that’s relevant, that’s rigorous, that’s connected to the industry and prepares students for life after high school,” Hayashi said.

All students at Waipahu High School are enrolled in a career academy, said principal Zachary Sheets. Students take core academic classes while also gaining practical experience in future careers, Sheets said, adding that he hopes most students have career-related internships by their senior year. 

Hayashi said he hopes the building will encourage teamwork among students across the academies, building the collaborative skills they will need to use in their future careers. 

Plans for the $29 million learning center emerged around 2016, when architectural and planning firm WRNS Studio began working with the DOE to design the center, said senior associate Rochelle Nagata-Wu. 

Nagata-Wu said the building accommodates hydroponics and aquaponics on its lower levels and a dining room and teaching kitchen on its 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 in the same building, she added. 

In addition to promoting collaboration across the high school, principals also hope to see more 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)

Sheldon Oshio, principal at Waikele Elementary, said exposure to careers should start at an early age. 

He said that, as early as kindergarten, his elementary students take classes aligned with the professional pathways available at the high school. Many then go on to Waipahu Intermediate School, which offers a series of elective classes that can inform students’ academy choices in high school. 

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

At Waipahu High School, students are allowed to change academies one time. But, Hayashi said, he hopes students’ experiences in the academies provide them with professional skills and experiences that can help them succeed, regardless of the career path they ultimately pursue. 

“It’s a cultural shift, raising the expectations of what our students do,” Hayashi said of the new building. “It also helps to continue to raise the expectations that our community has of our public schools.”

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