How the FBI's Adopt-a-School Program is Working in Hawaii

The FBI's Honolulu Division implemented its Adopt-a-School program nearly a decade ago at what was then an at-risk high school in troubled neighborhood. Today, the program is showing tangible, measurable results that show lower rates of drug use and truancy at the school.

Video Transcript

Slide: In 2009, the FBI’s Honolulu Division established its Adopt-a-School program in one of the state’s most at-risk high schools.

Slide: The goal was to reduce crime and delinquency and to give students a path to a positive future.

Slide: Nearly a decade later, the school and the community are reaping the benefits.

Slide: Through Adopt-a-School, students have been learning the fundamentals of law enforcement.

Slide: Today, they’re using forensic skills to solve a mock kidnapping case.

Arnold Laanui, special agent, Honolulu Division: So, six months ago we got together with the University of Hawaii and its forensic anthropology department and we pre-staged a crime scene with two victims that we had buried in a shallow grave on campus here.

Slide: Before the exercise, students learned the basics of conducting investigations and working a crime scene.

Slide: The specialized training took place at two separate high school campuses.

Laanui: We have five blocks of instruction. Real basics on how to approach crime scenes that include crime-scene safety, search patterns, how to engage in crime scene photography and sketching, and how to gather evidence and take good quality notes. With those basic skills, our students go ahead and are dropped into a two-day field training exercise.

Slide: The two schools in the field exercise reflect their students’ different and diverse backgrounds.

School number one that participates in this is Waipahu High School. Waipahu High School is our socially, economically disadvantaged at-risk neighborhood. So, we have a number of high-performing students with a high degree of resilience, but come from a very different economic and ethnic background attending Waipahu High School.

School number two that we’re partnering with is our privileged all-girls Sacred Hearts Academy, a well-known high school here in the state of Hawaii that has a rock-star STEM program. These are very high-performing students that are highly driven.

Anson Paiva, Honolulu Police Department: When I first became a police officer back in 2000 over here in Waipahu, it was a completely different neighborhood from what we see today. There was high crime, a lot of truancy. In certain areas of the neighborhood officers could not go in alone. They had to go in with two or three officers; two officers that service the 911 call in that area and one officer to stay outside and watch the cars to make sure the cars weren’t vandalized. It was a really—it was kind of a rough neighborhood.

Laanui: So, what we’re really trying to do, ultimately, the outcome we’re looking to achieve are the drastic reduction of those numbers—can we reduce violence, can we reduce drugs in that neighborhood to make that neighborhood a safer and better place.

Slide: After conducting separate parallel investigations, the students discovered they would be collaborating during their final exercise.

Kendrick Dang, student: You learned that you’ve got to work together as a team, and always as a team, because you’re never by yourself. And we ended up finding two bodies of one male and one female. And that was actually really cool digging it up.

Angelina Gomes, student: It definitely made me feel more connected. Like, you know how different police stations connect to each other? Like, they barely know anything about the other police station. Yet here they are. They're working together to solve this case and try to bring justice to the victims of it.

Laanui: We’re taking a lot of the core values that would make successful people in general—not only successful FBI agents or successful FBI employees. But what are those elements that lead to long-term success, and trying to see if we can implement some of that in the school.

Gomes: It makes me feel really humbled to think that someone would go through all this trouble just so I could have the experience of solving a real crime.

Keith Hayashi, principal, Waipahu High School: But I think it was a great experience for both sides, to look at and learn from each other. Thanks to Special Agent Laanui and the FBI, you know, in working and building our academy, I think our students see law enforcement perhaps in a different light now for some of them. Now it’s, hey, you know, they’re here to help. That’s my friend.

Paiva: We keep injecting positive messages and positive things and building positive relationships with people. Eventually the only thing that could happen are positive things.

Slide: Violence and drug use are down more than 50 percent at Waipahu High School since the Adopt-a-School program began.

Slide: Truancy and suspension rates have dropped by more than 50 percent as well.

Laanui: So, there is a neighborhood and a campus renaissance that’s kind of taking place. And walking on that campus now is absolutely phenomenal. There is nothing but really advanced learning that’s taking place. And not only learning but a zeal and an excitement about learning that hasn't been there before. And we’re really fortunate to have been partnered with this school to help play a role in some of that.

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