An alternative education program in Hawaii that helped high school dropouts and other young people who withdrew from school obtain a Hawaii adult community school diploma has been phased out after more than 40 years of operations.

The “Competency-Based Community School Diploma Program,” known informally as “C-Base,” was discontinued by the Hawaii Department of Education at the end of June.

Department officials said the program, launched in 1976, didn’t offer a slate of secondary studies equivalent to a high school diploma as defined by the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

As of July 1, only those who complete the General Education Diploma, know as the GED, or High School Equivalency Test can now receive a Hawaii adult community school diploma.

McKinley Community School for Adults is one of two main DOE hubs that provide adult learning programs, including helping students pass their GED or High School Equivalency Test. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In April 2018, DOE officials determined that C-Base didn’t line up with federal requirements. Notice was given to the two main schools  — Waipahu Community School for Adults and McKinley Community School for Adults — that act as hubs for adult learning programs throughout the state.

Nonprofits that helped administer the C-Base curriculum said they were prepared for the program’s June 30 shut down and did their best to alert participants. But they still fought for its survival.

“We did our due diligence and called as many kids as possible,” said Lisa Tamashiro, director of operations and special programs for Adult Friends for Youth, one of the community partners.

It’s not clear how many students cycled in and out of the C-Base program on a yearly basis or how many total students it served since inception. But it had a far reach.

Gordon Lum, vice principal of Waipahu Community School for Adults, said the various campuses his school oversees on the Leeward and Windward side would graduate anywhere from 400 to 600 students a year.

The program accounted for 40% or more of all students funded under the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act. It appealed primarily to youth “who struggled in high school and who want a practical education focused on how to balance work and home life,” according to a recent report published by the state’s Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

The C-Base program was unique in another respect. It typically reached participants who didn’t test high enough to begin a GED or HiSET course of study and featured a study of five areas of life competency, as opposed to a single test evaluating math and reading ability, according to the 2018 report.

The program, said Tamashiro, “reached youth who fell through the cracks and couldn’t keep up in a traditional (school) setting.”

C-base students included those recovering from addiction, as well as many special education students who had individualized education programs while in school, according to a former instructor.

Provided More Than Classes

Hawaii has a higher percentage of “youth disconnectedness,” about 14.5% of people 16-24 years-old who are neither in work or school, than the national average. A major reason for the high percentage is low school attendance and family responsibilities, according to a June report by the Workforce Development Council.

C-Base’s core “competencies” included how to navigate community resources, build up financial literacy, gain an understanding of civics and local government, maintain physical and mental health and research job and training opportunities. That could mean learning basic life skills such as how to balance a checkbook or open a savings account.

Some participants went on to college or the military through C-Base, according to Adult Friends for Youth President and CEO Deborah Spencer-Chun.

“When we put them through an alternative program like C-Base, they start to feel better and want to engage,” Spencer-Chun said.

The program also offered instruction in subjects like math and English that would be taught in a regular high school setting.

Wendy Lopez, 31, a services department coordinator for the automotive company Servco, completed the C-Base program through Adult Friends for Youth in the mid 2000s.

As a Waipahu High freshman in 2003, she had to withdraw from school after getting pregnant and then needed to care for her infant daughter.

“I had no choice but to be home with my baby. Being pregnant at such a young age, I can remember thinking back then, it was not an easy thing to go back to regular high school,” she said.

Through C-Base, Lopez earned a diploma at the Farrington campus of McKinley Community School for Adults. She later enrolled in vocational school to train as a medical assistant, getting certified in 2009.

“Without graduating from high school, I would not have been able to attend the medical assistant program,” she said.

C-Base is being replaced with something called the Workforce Development Diploma, which helps high-needs student get prepared for the workforce without needing a high school diploma.

Lum, the vice principal at Waipahu Community School for Adults, said the focus for his division is now turning to students who want to get a job, but may also want to obtain a high school diploma through the more traditional paths of a GED or HiSET.

“This work readiness credential program … aims to meet the workplace literacy needs of these individuals in addition to providing them with necessary basic education and access to job training programs,” Helen Sanpei, principal of McKinley Community School for Adults, said in an emailed statement.

The Workforce Development Diploma is available to students 18 years and older, or for those 16 and 17 who withdraw from school.

In 2018, the DOE received $2.2 million in federal funding and $4 million in state funding to run its adult education programs.

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