Trisha Kehaulani Watson: It's Time To Help Communities Help Themselves - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Trisha Kehaulani Watson

Trisha Kehaulani Watson is a Kaimuki resident, small business owner, and bibliophile. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law. She writes about environmental issues, cultural resource management, and the intersection between culture and politics. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can follow or contact her on Twitter at @hehawaiiau.


As the governor partially lifts the mask mandate, allowing people to go without a mask when outdoors, it feels like we may finally be moving through this crazy time.

The struggle was real, and let’s be honest: The struggle wasn’t equitably shared by all communities. This was particularly true when it came to education.

As education administrators quickly scrambled to come up with “distance learning” options when the seriousness of the pandemic unfolded last year, the reality was such a transition wasn’t going to be as feasible for some families.

Not all children have computers they can use for an entire day. Some don’t even have private spaces they can carve out at home to focus on online classes. Too many rural communities remain without access to stable, high-speed internet service.

Not all parents had the option of working from home, staying home or having someone to watch their children when the schools closed.

If nothing else, this past year highlighted how much social inequity influences learning. Hopefully a new initiative from the state administration will begin to remedy this issue.

This month Gov. David Ige announced his “Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund,” which is intended to “provide incentives and fund organizations and schools that are doing innovative things that both respond to the pandemic and most importantly set a course for educational change and reform.”

Successful grantees, which will include local education agencies, institutes of higher education, and other education groups (including public, charter, and private schools) will receive between $100,000 to $500,000 to fund innovative initiatives that address the impact COVID-19 has had on students, families, and educators in Hawaii. This funding can have an impact on communities that need infrastructure resources to make educational opportunities equitable across diverse student bodies.

(left) Raven Svenson and other volunteers from the Revolution Hawaii group with the Salvation Army, prepare packages for a food drive at the Hawaii Food Bank in Honolulu in order to help families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Monday, September 29, 2020. (Photo: Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat)
Communities know the roots of their problems and should be given tools to solve them. The pandemic provided many examples including food banks helping families in need of assistance. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2020

Community Innovation

When it comes to innovation, there are community organizations doing incredible work. One of these organizations is Purple Maia, a nonprofit formed in 2013 with the goal of teaching kids how to code.

The organization has only grown and blossomed since then, offering a wide range of programming that integrates technology with culture, inspiring youth to become “culturally grounded, community serving technology makers and problem solvers.”

Community groups like these are the key to solving inequity issues. Communities are smart. They know the roots of their problems; they also know what solutions are needed. They know how to effectively mobilize themselves.

We saw it time and time again over the last year. Communities quickly came together to feed and support one another while the government often remained flat-footed.

Too often the obstacles to success are bureaucracy, not a lack of innovation or ideas. Equally often, the issue is just a lack of funding to support community-led programs and solutions.

COVID-19 Relief And Systemic Change

COVID-19 may have created unprecedented obstacles, but it would be unfortunate to not also see opportunity. Ige absolutely should be putting funding directly into schools and communities for innovation.

He also should approve House Bill 613, which appropriates $29.7 million in COVID-19 stimulus funds for payments of $2,200 each to the educator workforce. After a year of having to keep students attentive over Zoom, $2,200 is the least we can do for our teachers.

It’s frankly shameful this payment even needs to be debated. Our teachers remain grossly underpaid and woefully under appreciated. When we talk about supporting community initiatives, providing real financial support and resources to our teachers must be among our highest priorities.

Although hardly enough financially, $2,200 sends a message that our teachers are of value to us as a community. We need to make sure teachers know they are valued and appreciated.

Communities need to know they are valued and appreciated.

There’s a lot of talk about “building back better.” We can start to do so by investing in the communities, programs and people that reflect the best of us.


Read this next:

Danny De Gracia: Don't Let Oahu Become A Giant Slum


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About the Author

Trisha Kehaulani Watson

Trisha Kehaulani Watson is a Kaimuki resident, small business owner, and bibliophile. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law. She writes about environmental issues, cultural resource management, and the intersection between culture and politics. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can follow or contact her on Twitter at @hehawaiiau.


Latest Comments (0)

"Our teachers remain grossly underpaid and woefully under appreciated."According to EducationWeek's latest data, Hawaii teachers average salary is $59,757, which is below the US average of $61,730.  However, the state is in the top 10 in spending per pupil.  According to its own report: The DOE employs about 13,000 teachers, librarians and counselors, and an additional 12,000 educational officers, civil servants, and support services personnel.  So in other words, only 52% of the DOE employees actually teach children.  Perhaps this is the real problem.

Downhill_From_Here · 2 weeks ago

I don't understand why private schools would be able to get a grant from the government which is essentially taxpayers money. Doesn't the word private mean that it's non government-funded?

Scotty_Poppins · 2 weeks ago

Good article. The examples given are compelling. One caveat... there must be justification and review for proposed community initiatives. Not every group or idea is worthy of taxpayer support.

CaptainMandrake · 2 weeks ago

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