Affected pupils are going to need access to specialist counseling services, staff say.

Heather Ganis’ youngest son, Micah, was supposed to attend his freshman orientation day at Lahainaluna High School, but the fire broke out and consumed their home.

Now, she is concerned that a week that was supposed to mark a return to normal learning could derail bigger plans.

“My son has huge hopes for college and all kinds of things. I do not want to see him lose out on anything,” Ganis said. “I already have two kids, that are older. I’ve seen this whole college process, and I worry about that.”

Fourteen-year-old Micah Ganis, left, was an incoming freshman at Lahainaluna High School when the Lahaina fires burned down his family home. (Provided: Heather Ganis)

Cheira Cappal and Allyson Duran are two of the upcoming seniors at Lahainaluna High School who were going to lead the freshman orientation that day.

“The seniors need to let the freshmen know that we are there for them because we also went into high school with another disaster,” Cappal said.

The coronavirus pandemic took away Cappal and Duran’s eighth grade graduation and the start of their high school career. They had big hopes for the return of in-person classes.

Cappal, who was born and raised in Lahaina, said she now gets anxious at “just the sound of wind, because I’m so scared that another fire is going to come up.”

At least one Lahainaluna High School junior, Kenyero Fuentes, died at his home in the Aug. 8 fire, his family confirmed to NPR.

Cheira Cappal, center with yellow lei, and her friends were excited to begin their journey as seniors at Lahainaluna High School after losing out on in-person learning during the pandemic. (Provided: Cheira Cappal)

‘Extreme Level Counselors’

While Lahainaluna High School itself is untouched, Cappal’s former elementary school, King Kamehameha III, sustained serious damage. The school has two counselors and one licensed therapist for 700 students.

Jonathan Silva, who has been a counselor at the school for 13 years, said the students there experienced a level of trauma that will require a deeper response from Hawaii DOE.

“It’s a problem that will be beyond any school counselor, state therapist, behavioral health specialist,” he said. “We need those types of extreme-level counselors to help these kids and families navigate through what they experienced.”

Silva worries that students will experience another setback, socially and emotionally, following the fire and damage to the school.

“I’m scared that suicide rates will go up, I’m scared of homelessness and that poverty rates will go up” he said. “And if those go up, it sounds extreme, but academics don’t matter.”

Silva’s colleague, kindergarten teacher Jessica Sill said, “There’s too much worry, fear and hurt for them to take in academic information. I’m an adult and I’m having a hard time falling asleep because all I can think about is the fire and running away from it.”

Lahainaluna High School is photographed Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023, in Lahaina. The campus was largely untouched by a large fire last week. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
Lahainaluna High School campus survived the fire, but affected students will have access to a counselor and behavioral specialist as well as services at Lahaina Comprehensive Health Center, the Maui Family Guidance Center and online therapy. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

Sill said she considers her students as her own children and prioritizes their well-being, but that the kinds of supports the children will need are not available on Maui. “What these students need is trauma therapists,” Silva said.

Annie Kalama, the assistant superintendent of the Department of Education’s Office of Student Support Services, said that there will be a counselor and behavioral health specialist available at every school.

Besides in-person appointments with school counselors, students can find free services at Lahaina Comprehensive Health Center and Maui Family Guidance Center and telehealth options through Hazel Health.

“We know that this is a very fluid situation, that the needs will change,” Kalama said. “We’re positioned to respond and evolve with our supports as needed.”

Anthony Papa, a University of Hawaii Manoa clinical psychology professor, said the only people that can make things better for the children are the adults.

“It’s funny with kids, sometimes they’re more resilient than you think,” he said.

Papa noted that children often respond to adults’ reactions and it’s important for the adults to take breaks and try to engage in some normalcy.

“There should be no expectation for anybody to feel anything right this minute because they’re in the midst of still dealing with the consequences,” Papa said. “I think people should just give themselves permission to feel like they feel.”

Civil Beat’s community health coverage is supported by the Swayne Family Fund of Hawaii Community Foundation, the Cooke Foundation, Atherton Family Foundation and Papa Ola Lokahi.

Civil Beat’s education reporting is supported by a grant from Chamberlin Family Philanthropy.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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