Hana’s 3 Gates Scholarship Awards, Long Odds

May 3, 2012, 11:49 AM HST
* Updated May 3, 5:50 PM
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By Susan Halas

“Unbelievable” – “Awesome” – “Incredible” – “Astonishing”

Hana's Gates award winners:(L-R) Kamalei Pico, Nina Thorne and Hauoli Kahaleuahi. Photo by Ka'ua Woessner.

These are just a few of the reactions in Hana this week as news spread that three seniors, all members of the Hana High Class of 2012, had been awarded Gates Millennium Foundation scholarships.

The odds that a small rural school in East Maui with fewer than two dozen in the graduating class would score three of the biggest ticket academic awards were very long indeed.

The Odds Were Long

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24,000 – that’s how many applications were received for the 1,000 full-ride scholarships that cover all student expenses including tuition, room, board and books for up to 10 years.

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That represents a big investment in young talent and is long enough to ensure that the future leaders won’t have to worry about money while they pursue their studies. As most parents know only too well, going to college these days is a big expense and costs can easily average $50,000 a year.

Hana is Proud of the Winners

To say that Hana is proud of these students is an understatement.

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“I guess everybody has heard,” said,  Hauoli Kahaleuahi, 17, one of the winners. “There are people coming up to me in the post office and shaking my hand. People I don’t even know.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Kamalei Pico, 18 and Nina Thorne, 18. “Happy.” “Proud for Hana.” “We couldn’t believe they would choose three.”

These three young women all know each other and they are all friends. They are all making future plans that sound like very solid first moves.

Hauoli Kehalehuahi

This fall Hauoli plans to enter Oregon State in Corvallis where she will study marine sciences. Looking back, she said, “The big moment was when we were notified we were finalists. After that we just waited around.”

“The whole process was really hard and time-consuming.” She credited Hana School guidance counselor Linda Gravatt and volunteer writing coach Tad Bartimus with keeping her motivated and focused.

“They taught us to tell stories that make us different. They reminded me that the goal is to be a winner.” Like the others, she was shocked and delighted that “all of us in the same class made it.”

“I have friends and relatives at other Maui schools and they don’t get this kind of help.”

“What we tell the underclassmen is look at us: what we did is not common, but it is possible with the right motivation. Know what you want, set big goals, be determined.”

“Coming from Hana, an isolated and in some ways underprivileged community, this is wonderful in so many ways. I really want to thank our community; they have believed in us and supported us since we were little kids.”

Kamalei Pico

“It took a lot of time but it was worth it,” said Kamalei. She will be attending the University of Colorado at Boulder and hopes to go on to study pediatric medicine.”

She too credited the Gravatt – Bartimus duo for “teaching us what was required.”

“Linda was my counselor since my freshman year. She helped us a lot. Tad forced me to be more open minded, to get to know myself better and to be able to express it in writing.”

Her goal is to do well in her studies and “come back to Hana and help my family.”

Nina Thorne

Nina will be attending the University of Washington in Seattle to study business. She said that “learning to express myself on paper was difficult at first, but it got easier with practice.”

Her advice to other college applicants is: “Be honest, tell your story. I was motivated from middle school to participate in leadership and community activities. I wanted a bright future.”

All three were grateful to their school, to their community and to their families. Their happiness is palpable and so is the  pride of their community in their achievements.

It’s Not Just Luck: Gravatt & Bartimus

What is less obvious is how it came to be.

The fact is that the Gates awards are not just a fluke or a one-shot deal, but part of a consistent pattern. In the last decade Hana students have been the recipients of steady stream of scholarship awards worth millions of dollars.

Hana racks up these gigantic awards year-after-year and sends its students on to educational opportunities that surely are the envy not just of Hawaii but the whole USA.

Their secret is the winning combo of Linda Gravatt (a long time Hana guidance counselor) and Tad Bartimus (a highly regarded journalist who makes her home in Hana and serves as the volunteer writing coach).

These two women are extremely modest and are the last to suggest that their skills, talents and dedication have anything to do with the monetary bonanza for Hana students. But those who know better understand that there is method to their madness.

Linda Gravatt – Hana Guidance Counselor

Linda Gravatt guidance counselor hana school

Linda Gravatt, guidance counselor at Hana High, has helped students earn millions of dollars in scholarship aid. Susan Halas photo.

Gravatt, a former classroom teacher, asked for the guidance post when it became vacant over a decade ago.

Since then she’s worked non-stop, not only to locate sources of educational funding, but also to motivate her students to think big, define what they really want, and learn how to express it well in writing.

Did She Say Writing?

Despite what you may have heard, writing well and thoughtfully is a primary criteria for academic advancement. The Gates application, for example, has no less than nine required personal essays. Other scholarships and grants also place a heavy emphasis on writing.

National statistics say that a student essay has about seven seconds to capture the attention of the reader or land in the reject pile.

The Portfolio Approach

Gravatt emphasizes the portfolio approach. It’s not just the exceptional students in her view who need to start thinking about the future; it’s all the students, whether they’re headed to college, the military or work.

All seniors in Hana take Gravatt’s class. It meets three times a week and focuses on self exploration. “Not too many kids who are 16 or 17 years old have really asked themselves the question: ‘Who am I?’”

To that end they meet to talk about goals, practice resumes and letters of reference and get a handle on what life could be like if their dreams came true.

In a world where most people aim at just getting by, her focus on aiming high and inspiring students to ask for more, a lot more, seems like a novel approach. “We apply for everything, absolutely everything.” It is one that has paid off handsomely.

Tad Bartimus – Volunteer Writing Coach

Tad Bartimus- Author, Syndicated Columnist

Noted journalist Tad Bartimus was the volunteer writing coach for the winners and other students. Courtesy photo.

The other dazzler in this combo is journalist Tad Bartimus. Besides being a highly regarded columnist and former AP bureau chief, she is a long- time Hana resident. Some years ago she came into Gravatt’s class to work as a volunteer writing coach. She’s willing to help everyone, but in her view, kids with the bigger goals “pretty much self-select.”

“The work,” she pointed out, “is endless. The writing and rewriting consume hundreds of hours.”

Both women are advocates of  looking inside yourself and bringing forth an authentic voice. They stress writing that draws on their students’ own life experience and their own real desires.

Both pointed out that Hana is a place that gives little encouragement to this line of thought. Hana gives more weight to “modest, humble, not putting yourself forward, than to individual advancement.”

But getting into top schools requires reversing that pattern; and because it is not ingrained, it doesn’t come easily.

Motivation, Diligence, Practice + Writing = Success

They put the emphasis on consistent motivation combined with diligence, practice and follow-up: filling out those forms, answering the questions, meeting the deadlines and yes, expressing yourself in writing in a way that makes Hana applicants stand out from others.

So while Hana may be a small school, it may not have a lot of money and while many students may come from poor families, in this – its centennial year – Hana High is the pride of Maui and a tribute to what students, counselors, volunteers and families working together can do.

The rest of us could learn a lot from the Hana approach.

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