Educational Resilience in Maui's Wildfire Aftermath

In the wake of the Maui wildfires, La Pietra – Hawai‘i School for Girls took swift and decisive action to alleviate the impact on the affected community.

Dec 11, 2023  |  By Rachel Wagenman, La Pietra – Hawai‘i School for Girls


Just two days into the new school year, leaders at La Pietra – Hawai‘i School for Girls received distressing reports about the destructive wildfires sweeping across Maui. “By Friday morning, the devastation and enormity of the situation became very clear to me,” recalled Head of School Jennifer Grems. Over the course of the next several weeks, the toll would surpass 100 lives lost, and the vibrant touristic and economic center of Lahaina, situated on the island's western edge, would face widespread devastation.

Recognizing the power of education to provide stability during tumultuous times, Grems and her team crafted a plan that would allow up to 60 girls in grades 6-12 who had been directly impacted by the Maui wildfires to enroll at La Pietra at no cost to their families, beginning the following week.

The initiative aimed not only to offer schooling but also to address the basic and fundamental needs crucial for a conducive learning environment. This included provisions such as breakfast and lunch, access to HIPAA-compliant mental health services, and essential school supplies and laptops. In less than a week, members of La Pietra's Parent-Faculty Association, with the assistance of some eager students, assembled 25 backpacks filled with supplies for the first Maui families to arrive at the school.

While identifying the viability of the Maui Relief Program, La Pietra’s trustees and executive leadership team carefully assessed the school’s capacity and financial resources. After thorough consideration, they determined that La Pietra could responsibly and immediately absorb the costs associated with bringing in 60 additional students to campus.

In an effort to reach the greater community, La Pietra leveraged social media and various press opportunities, including interviews with Good Morning America, Hawaii News Now, and KITV, to spread the word that those families who had relocated to Oahu had a place where their daughters could find education, community and support as their families began the long process of recovery.

However, school leaders were met with the challenge of getting the word out about La Pietra’s Maui Relief Program when so many families were affected by the widespread power and internet outages. Word of mouth is a powerful tool, and La Pietra students, their families, faculty, and staff members were encouraged to share the news of the program with friends and family, hoping the information would get to those who needed it on Maui.

For parents like Cecilia Rodriguez and her daughters, the lifeline came through a phone call from a family friend on Oahu, who alerted them to the opportunity at La Pietra. Rodriguez’s daughters were enrolled at Lahaina Intermediate and Lahainaluna High School, a public day and boarding school in Lahaina. For nearly a week, Rodriguez and her family were not only without power, but also without phone and internet service. She and her family had called Maui home for the last 10 years, but she reached out to La Pietra because she knew the small-school environment was what her daughters needed at that moment.

For families similarly impacted by the fires, the relief program offered not only education but also a sense of belonging within the La Pietra community. “What we know about education is that it can provide a sense of stability and normalcy at a time when things are not normal and not stable,” said Grems.

La Pietra’s Maui Relief Program will continue to be available as families impacted by the wildfires figure out the path forward and feel it is a good fit for their daughter. “There’s no time limit or restriction on what we’re offering,” said Grems. “We know that the needs are going to be long term, so if impacted families find themselves here on Oahu, and they would like this space and place for their daughters to come to school, we have space for them.”

“I believe that everybody here in this community understands the mission of the school – to educate young women to lead a life of purpose. And at this moment, our purpose is to provide opportunity, service and assistance to others.”

If you or someone you know has been impacted by the Maui wildfires and has a daughter La Pietra can assist, please reach out to or call (808) 922-2744.


Rachel Wagenman

Rachel Wagenman is director of communications at La Pietra – Hawai‘i School for Girls.


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