Educating children at homeless shelters and tents on the beach, Ka Paalana is funded mostly through federal programs, including the Administration for Native Americans.

Because Hawaii's circumstances prevent many families from being able to afford preschool, Ka Paalana Director Danny Goya wanted his school to provide quality learning. So he sought to be accredited by the National Association for Education of Young Children, which he calls the "creme de la creme of accreditation." The association rejected his application when he first applied in 2007. It normally accredits programs with a permanent, physical center, so the preschool set up a tent at a shelter, complete with a playground that now meets the association's standards.

Ninety-five percent of the preschool's families are Native Hawaiian and the program strives to perpetuate Hawaiian culture. Teachers use the culture to teach skills, such as learning to count in English and Hawaiian. The graduation ceremony closed with a Hawaiian prayer, or pule, led by two graduates.

Seeing Enaia Carrisales, 5, play with blocks under the shade of a tent on the beach or run around with other children her age has helped ease the stress of losing the family's Makaha home to foreclosure, said her father, Albert.

"It means a lot to us," he said. "She's able to learn and get together with kids."

The preschool incorporates parents and caregivers, with the adults spending time with the children for several hours and then spending the rest of the day receiving skills such as vocational training and GED preparation.

The classes have helped homeless single father Leo Dew with his two daughters, Leolani, 6, and Leomomi, 5.

"We're blessed to have this program," he said after watching Leomomi graduate, wearing a lei he made with plumeria picked from trees at a Waianae homeless shelter.


Jennifer Sinco Kelleher can be reached on Twitter at

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