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“If you want ‘em you make ‘em, if you broke ‘em you fix ‘em.” David Fuertes says this is the motto of Kohala and he lives by it. Not only can he fix a cow, a saddle, a car and a gourmet dinner, but he set out to fix education as well.

David was the agricultural teacher at Kohala High School for 30 years. But Mr. Fuertes wasn’t just teaching agriculture, he was teaching leadership. Today, many of Hawai‘i’s business, community and educational leaders were David’s students and credit him and his programs with their success today.  

Agricultural programs used to be important in Hawai‘i’s schools, but the winds shifted and as reading, writing and ‘rithmatic became paramount, the ag programs were gutted. Agricultural education was no longer seen as a priority or a viable career pathway. Now, there is a renewed focus on diversified agriculture and on Hawai‘i’s lack of food self-sufficiency. Everyone agrees that one of the keys to food security for Hawai‘i’s future is raise future farmers.

It was broken, so he set out to fix em. Working with Partners in Development, David started Ka Hana No‘eau an after school mentoring program for Hawaiian youth. “We are preparing students for academic achievement and we are building self esteem through mentorship programs. Many of our programs revolve around agriculture,” say Fuertes.

Ka Hana No‘eau combines a focus on academic achievement with hands on learning. The AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program is the key tool they use in improving academic performance.

Hands on learning has mentors working with groups of students in 8 areas—Natural Farming, Bio-technology, Animal Husbandry, Saddle Making, Culinary Arts, Journalism, Aquatic Resources and Small Engine Repair.

What has been the result of this innovative approach? 93% of Ka Hana No‘eau students go to college and get their degrees.

Today, many of David’s past students have come home to roost as mentors or key players in Ka Hana No‘eau. Adriel Robitaille, a 2002 graduate of Kohala High School is now working as the Agriculture teacher at Kohala High School—his former teacher’s old position! The once vibrant greenhouse, animal husbandry program, aquaculture, gardens and kitchens have fallen into disrepair. But Adriel has a dream to rebuild the Ag program to its former glory—and then some!

On the day we were there, Ka Hana No‘eau students and mentors were building a chicken coop (complete with chickens!) and cleaning out a taro lo‘i and aquaculture tank.

True to the Kohala motto, Ka Hana No‘eau has fostered a whole cadre of students who can fix and make a whole bunch of things—ukuleles, saddles, gardens, eggs and healthy meals! “If you want ‘em you make ‘em, if you broke ‘em you fix ‘em.” Indeed! You can see already that these students are ready to become the next generation of leaders—ready with creative solutions to Hawai‘i’s problems.