Lee Cataluna: How One Company Is Going The Extra Mile To Help Its Working Parents - Honolulu Civil Beat

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Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

Kuuleialoha Gaisoa knew her employees were worrying about their kids.

“Two weeks before school started in August, we didn’t know if the students were going back to campus or not,” she said.

Gaisoa’s construction company kept working through the pandemic since construction jobs were deemed essential, though during the strictest lockdown periods, the office staff worked from home.

But when parents were at work and kids were expected to attend remote school at home, who would be there to make sure they woke up on time, logged in on time and organized all their assignments? Gaisoa pictured her staff calling home all day long to make sure their kids were getting their work done, staying on schedule, staying out of trouble.

Gaisoa is part-owner of Unlimited Construction, which has offices on Oahu and Kauai. She started thinking about how the company could support its employees’ families, and realized they could create an office-school, a place for employees to bring their kids that offered more than babysitting. They could create classroom space and hire a teacher to work with the children. The office-school wouldn’t replace regular school, but could support school lessons and enhance learning.

“That way, the kids could come to work with their parents if school started or not, if it was blended learning or not,” Gaisoa said. “They could come no matter what.”

At Unlimited’s Kauai building in the Puhi industrial area, Gaisoa reorganized the office to create classroom space with safe distancing. The company built a patio outside to serve as a lunch area, and built separate restrooms for the kids.

“For two weeks before school started, we rushed around and got supplies for the students. We bought furniture. We got separated cubbies. We put up TVs. Every kid has an iPad. We went on a search for a teacher. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but we were preparing to be prepared.”

Unlimited School lunch patio
Unlimited Construction’s Kauai office built a patio for employees’ children to eat their lunch during the school day. Courtesy: Unlimited Construction

Providing this measure of stability to their employees’ families meant having to be very flexible.

As it turned out, each kid had a different online class schedule. The students, about 10 to 15 on any given day, ranging in age from 4 to 13, came from six different schools. Even kids from the same school had different schedules and different lunch hours. The number of children in the center varied as different schools opened back up for in-person learning, or when students on blended-learning schedules were back on campus.

The construction company hired a full-time teacher, paying that person full benefits. They created a master list with every student’s passwords for each app and program they needed to do their work. They got extra computers in case somebody’s computer crashed.

In all, Gaisoa estimates the company spent around $100,000 last fall to set up its on-site learning center, which they call “Unlimited School.” This year, the main cost will be the teacher’s salary, which Gaisoa says is in the $50,000 to $60,000 range.

The office-school implements safety protocols, with daily temperature checks, mask checks, separated desks and frequent wipe-downs of surfaces throughout the day. The students bring their own lunch, and the school has its own microwave, fridge and sink separate from the rest of the construction company office.

“We won’t stop the school until there is no such thing as blended learning, so probably not any time soon.” — Kuuleialoha Gaisoa

To fill the hours when the kids aren’t doing online class or working on homework, the construction company turns to its in-house expertise, having engineers teach principles of design and building, and giving the students hands-on construction projects. One topic both the engineers and the students enjoyed was studying different kinds of bridges.

The company decided to teach banking to the students, and set up an internal economy using Monopoly money. The students learn about paying rent, saving and interest. They can use their play money to buy snacks.

The students are assigned books, like “The Outsiders” and “Holes.” The younger kids listen while the older kids read aloud. When they finish the book, they watch the movie and enjoy individually packaged snacks.

“We try our best to make it as normal as possible, because these kids are really trying,” Gaisoa said.

Unlimited Construction offered to build a similar school at its Oahu office, but there wasn’t as much interest as on Kauai. Gaisoa said there are more single-parent families and households where both parents work at the Kauai location.

“When I found out that school was going to be online, I was concerned that my husband and I might have to take turns working from home for a couple of days each week to be with our daughters to help them with their online classes while working,” said Sujatha Ramaraju, an Unlimited employee. “Particularly for us, with no family support on island, knowing that they are in a safe environment has been such a great relief. I do not have to worry about them, and focus better at work.”

Gaisoa initially wasn’t sure how long she’d keep Unlimited School going, but she thinks it’ll be open at least through this year.

“We won’t stop the school until there is no such thing as blended learning, so probably not any time soon.”

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About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

Latest Comments (0)

An office-school how smart is that !That's a company I would like to work for !Great job, Ms. Gaisoa !

CFood · 2 years ago

WOW!   That's the best thing I've read in weeks!  Unlimited Construction should get more recognition and also give some ideas to other companies.  They are truly a stand out and other's should follow their lead if they can.  PPP loans maybe?

KauaiBest11 · 2 years ago

Wow! Unlimited Construction us a winner! They really stepped up! We need more of this!

Richard · 2 years ago

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