Bringing Together Pacific Islander Scholars and Families

By United Way of King County, on January 10, 2024 | In Helping Students Graduate, News

This blog post was written by Joy Sebe, United Way of King County associate director of education strategies.

“Talofa!” Naomi Mulitauaopele Tagaleo’o lovingly greeted the crowd in Samoan. “Talofa!” many shouted back. Students and families sat around the room, talking and eating American and Samoan foods.   

Last December in Kent, Education with Purpose Foundation for Pacific Islanders hosted a celebration dinner for 16 Pacific Islander students and families across 12 schools. In the past six weeks, students across five school districts (Highline, Federal Way, Kent, Quillayute Valley, and Tukwila) had been getting to know each other over Zoom. While they were not accustomed to spending time together in person, by the end of the evening they were clustered together in the front of the room playing games, laughing, and taking selfies.   

Above photo, from left: Education with Purpose Staff Andrea Iosua-Tinae, Scholars with Purpose students Jada and Mae Makins, and founder Naomi Mulitauaopele Tagaleo’o.  Banner photo: students and families pose for a photo at the celebration.

Many Pacific Islander students are the only students of their heritage in their school. When students come together through Education with Purpose’s programming, they see others who look like them and share their experiences, including their adult mentors. Naomi Mulitauaopele Tagaleo’o founded Education with Purpose to increase educational access and success for Pacific Islander students. She does this by connecting with them, celebrating Pacific Islander culture, providing academic support, and strengthening parent-student relationships.   

That evening in Kent, students shared what they wanted from their schools and families.   

They said they wanted their schools to provide more cultural awareness and training for teachers to better understand Pacific Islander students.  

Students also said what they wanted from their families: Share more career paths so that students can create game plans for their futures. They encouraged families to teach their children the Pacific Islander language and culture so that youth can pass down the knowledge from generation to generation. They also asked families to show more outward expressions of love, adding that love never hurts.

Fewer chores would be nice, they added, and more quality time with family is needed.

The students’ families listened. At the end of the evening, two fathers went to the front of the room to express their gratitude for the program and to share the impact.   

Said one parent: “That word scholar, it really does mean a lot, especially in the Polynesian community, we need more of it. I coach football and I know we give back a lot to the football community. But it’s just really, really great to see a program that’s academically driven to provide for our Polynesian community.”

Another parent added: “Growing up, I did not have this. Because we could not talk to our parents. Whatever they say, that goes. Usually, the kids don’t have a voice. A program like this breaks that cycle, to have a relationship with your kids, to open up…I appreciate everything this program is doing for education. It’s so important for our community.” 

From left: Solomona Atapana Tagaleo’o Jr., Naomi Mulitauaopele Tagaleo’o, and Solomona Atapana Tagaleo’o Sr.  

United Way of King County lauds and celebrates the work of Naomi Mulitauaopele Tagaleo’o for creating and continuing to lead the program with the support of staff member Andrea Iosua-Tinae. Much love to her husband Solomona Atapana Tagaleo’o Sr. and her son Solomona Atapana Tagaleo’o Jr. for supporting Naomi every day.   

Education with Purpose is a member of United Way of King County’s Racial Equity Coalition.  


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