Supporters of the Lahainaluna High School Boarding Department kept alive a more than 150-year-old school tradition by protesting the prospect of its elimination from the state's budget.
The boarding program that has students at the public school live and work on campus costs about $600,000 annually and surfaced as a tempting target for state officials trying to close a massive budget shortfall during the islands' economic downturn. Hearing of the prospect of the program getting axed, boarders and their supporters rallied on the streets, wrote letters to local newspapers and testified before state educators and lawmakers.
Among the dozens of program supporters were boarder graduates Richard "Noosh" Nishihara, class of 1962, and Keola Eharis Rogat, a 1994 alumnus now serving as Lahainaluna's career education coordinator.
Nishihara and Rogat were among several of the most die-hard supporters who offered their time and resources to travel to Oahu to make appeals to keep the state's only public school boarding program alive.
Rogat said the lobbying effort wasn't very organized, yet boarders and their supporters were able to come together for events such as sign-waving rallies that drew hundreds of participants and dozens of volunteers to write letters and send e-mails.
"The outpouring of concern and support was terrific, really terrific," Nishihara said.
Rogat said he got involved in lobbying because of his love for his alma mater and the boarders program.
"We just needed to tell our story and how this program changed our lives for the better," Rogat said.
Lahainaluna boarders participate in a work-study program that provides students from across the state, the Mainland and Micronesia, a chance to live and study in campus dormitories on the school grounds at the top of Lahainaluna Road.
In return, the students carry out various jobs around the campus.
"If you're in Lahaina, it just comes naturally that you support the school, the boarding program, all of Lahainaluna's traditions. It's just a part of this community," Nishihara said.
Rogat said his heart swelled to see dozens of supporters, some with no ties to Lahainaluna, back up the program.
"We were from all different generations, but yet we were the same," he said.
Both Nishihara and Rogat said they realize the program needs to work toward being self-sustaining, and they're both committed to helping it grow.
"Our work's just begun," Nishihara said.
* Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.