Former Student-Turned-Teacher Reunites with Mentor at Maui Head Start Site
Evelyn Del Valle and Said Akaou have a Head Start connection.
Akaou, 76, is a longtime assistant teacher at Head Start. Del Valle, 22, a Head Start youth, joined the early childhood learning program last October as a teacher aide. When the Head Start site at the University of Hawaiʻi Maui College, where Del Valle works, needed an extra teacher, Akaou agreed to go over there from his regular Wailuku Elementary site to help.
There was a reunion.
“Uncle Said, you don’t remember me?” Del Valle asked. “You were my teacher at Luana Gardens (Head Start site).”
“All I remember is your face . . . and your name,” he replied at the reunion on March 12.
Said later would remember more about the child, who spoke mostly Spanish, and her dad, an immigrant from Guatemala, who served as a Head Start officer with the center’s parent committee and would help out at the Luana Gardens MEO Head Start Kahului B site.
Del Valle was among Akaou’s first students. He joined Head Start in 2002 after moving to Maui from France with his wife in 2000. His intention was to retire, but he got bored. The retired vocational school instructor learned about Head Start, the pre-kindergarten program for low income families, and decided to give it a try.
Del Valle’s father, Max, stood out because there were not too many men taking leadership roles at Head Start at the time, Akaou said. Max also spoke only a little English, so Akaou, who spoke Spanish, helped him communicate.
Akaou also helped Max’s daughter Evelyn Del Valle, who did not speak English very well.
After a year, Del Valle was proficient in English.
Del Valle fondly remembered a few details of her days at Head Start as a youth. She recalled Akaou putting raisins on celery, “ants on a log,” he called them. “That is the only way I would eat celery,” she said.
Other highlights of her 2003-04 school year included a Halloween celebration, a visit to a Christmas tree farm and Santa.
Del Valle attended Lihikai Elementary, Maui Waena Intermediate and Maui High schools and is taking classes at UH-Maui College in early childhood education. Her father wanted her to become a flight attendant, which could offer travel benefits for the family, or to work for Head Start, run by Maui Economic Opportunity.
He wanted her to give back to the community.
After losing her restaurant job due to the pandemic, Del Valle saw the opening for a teacher aide at Head Start and decided to give it a try.
“It was kind of cool. It was a happy feeling,” Del Valle recalled when seeing “Uncle” Said. “I am giving what I got. Uncle Said and Head Start had a big impact on my life.”
For Akaou, it was a proud moment, meeting his former student, now a teacher aide at Head Start. When he took the position, it was not about career but keeping busy and giving back to the community. He added that next school year likely will be his last.
“I think I make a difference,” he said. “It’s very rewarding.”
MEO’s Early Childhood Services runs Head Start, a pre-kindergarten program for children 3 to 4 years old from low income Maui County families, and Kahi Kamaliʻi Infant and Toddler Center for children 1 to 3 years old. MEO Head Start is funded by the federal government and Maui County, and Kahi Kamaliʻi is fee for service, with scholarship assistance for income eligible families funded by Maui County.
May 18 was Head Start’s 56th birthday, and MEO’s Early Childhood Services department celebrated with cake. For more information about Head Start, call 249-2988.
*Courtesy Maui Economic Opportunity.