Ohana of Excellence develops student-operated cafe and bookstore

Out of all the academies at Waipahu High School, the Ohana of Excellence is one that many may be unfamiliar with.

The Ohana of Excellence is an academy that specializes in aiding and preparing students with special needs for their futures after high school. The academy’s goal is to get their students to graduate with a job by the age of 18, but if needed, students may remain the academy until their 22nd birthdays.

The Ohana of Excellence supports the Waipahu High School community through several student-operated services.

Two of the academy’s training centers include the Cane Café and the student-operated bookstore.

Ohana of Excellence teacher Sherianne Elarco explains, “We wanted to give [the students] a real-world experience on campus to give them skills that they need to get a job outside of school. For general students like you, it’s easy and comes naturally. For them, they need a little bit of help and a little bit more practice, so that’s what the training centers do for them.”

Elarco also says that with the academy’s goal in mind, students participate in a lot of community-based instruction (CBI).

CBI, as Elarco elaborated, involves taking students off campus to learn life skills they will need outside of school: “Stuff like how to order at a restaurant, how to act at a restaurant, how to buy clothes at a store, how to exchange money when they are purchasing something. Just those kinds of life skills that again are easy for you guys,  it’s just they need extra practice.”

The Cane Café is a training center in which Ohana of Excellence students take food and drink orders from teachers and deliver items themselves during the school day. Recently, the café has partnered with Dunkin’. The café will begin selling all Dunkin’ products such as coffee, bagels and donuts. The café also aims to start selling items to the student body after school.

The Ohana of Excellence bookstore is still currently in the works, but hopes to be running soon. The student-operated store will sell hoodies, pens, polo shirts, hats, school supplies, and of course, books. All screen-printed items will be printed by the academy students themselves in their print shop.

Once the bookstore is up and running, the students’ school day will resemble a job.

Elarco says, “They’ll come in, clock in, start working, clock out for break, clock in, clock out at the end of the day. It would not be like traditional school, more like a job, and while they’re working, they’re learning reading, writing, and math. They’ll learn how to read manuals, how to measure chemicals, how to write emails and how to do purchase orders. All the reading, writing and math will come from working, not worksheets or textbooks.”

While the Ohana of Excellence teachers do a great deal to prepare their students for life after high school, they are also seeking community support.

“What we’re looking for is for people who have the knowledge of how to run businesses and how can we get our kids to meet the industry standards that they expect, instead of us as teachers trying to guess. We would like community partners and business partners to come in and say, ‘This is what we want them to know and this is how we want them to perform.’”

The Ohana of Excellence provides memorable, hands-on experiences for their students, and hopes to build even better ones in the future.