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FBI Adopt-A-School Program
Reducing Crime, Empowering a Community

All the evidence led to the University of Hawaii’s West Oahu campus, to a field that appeared to contain a shallow grave. Taking direction from their FBI mentor, two teams of young investigators began to excavate the site, using trowels and soft brushes, working methodically until the freshly exposed earth revealed the outlines of a skull.

For the students from two different high schools, the hands-on dig was part of a mock kidnapping case they were investigating, and the culmination of a yearlong introduction to the FBI and the workings of the criminal justice system. For Special Agent Arnold Laanui, the exercise capped another successful year for the FBI Honolulu Division’s Adopt-a-School program—and it reaffirmed his passionate belief that one of the best ways to reduce crime in at-risk communities is to provide the right educational opportunities for young people.

Nearly a decade ago, Laanui, one of fewer than 20 Pacific Islanders in the FBI agent ranks, wanted to bring an Adopt-a-School program to his home state. The Bureau began the national outreach initiative in 1994 to help young people stay away from crime and drugs while learning core values that would make them good citizens. Since then, agents and other FBI employees around the country have volunteered thousands of hours to make a positive impact on the lives of youngsters in predominantly disadvantaged neighborhoods.

In 2009, Special Agent Arnold Laanui helped establish the FBI Honolulu Division’s Adopt-a-School program at Waipahu High School. Since then, one of the state’s most troubled schools has undergone a renaissance.

To determine which Hawaiian school would be best served, in 2009 Laanui researched Oahu communities with the highest crime rates. The neighborhood of Waipahu, encompassing approximately a four-square-mile area not far from the high-rise resorts and tourist beaches of Waikiki, showed surprising statistics.

“The data revealed that nearly half of the juvenile criminals in the state of Hawaii were coming out of that one area,” Laanui said. “That one little plot of land represented the most crime-ridden neighborhood in the state.”

Another fact was also of interest: From 2008 to 2010, nearly half the students at Waipahu High School had failed to graduate on time. Only 52 percent of the students who had entered the school as freshmen during those years had graduated four years later. Did the other 48 percent, having dropped out, resort to criminal activity because there were few other options? If you could design a program to keep those youngsters in school, engaged, and graduating on time, wouldn’t that result in lowering the community’s crime rate?

Laanui had his school—“in the toughest neighborhood in Hawaii”—and a clear vision: “From the start,” he said, “the Adopt-a-School program was a very deliberate attempt to re-engineer an entire neighborhood really at its core.”

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. Transcript | Download

Waipahu High School was full of energy on a recent spring morning as young people made their way to and from class. Motivational words—Ambition, Courage, Perseverance—appear on stairwells, and students’ murals grace many of the walls. Today, the school is a safe place for young people to learn and explore, but that was not always the case...

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