Nine years ago, a son took a bold step forward—and inspired his mother to do the same.

In 2009, Skip Potts, an English teacher and educational trainer, was determined to initiate dialogue about the disparities in our nation’s education system. So, he laced up his tennis shoes and went for a walk—from Boston, Massachusetts to Los Angeles, California. His 3,800-mile endeavor was inspired by a book, “Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools,” in which the author, John Kozol, examines the extremes of wealth and poverty in America’s public schools.

As Skip trekked across the country raising awareness and money for underfunded schools, his mother, Barbara Potts of the Aloha Group Maui office for KW Island Living, set up a nonprofit organization called People for Educational Equality (PFEE). The nonprofit’s mission is straightforward: To assist community-driven educational projects and improvements that are sustainable and can have a measurable impact on the schools or communities involved. Initially, PFEE made donations to schools outside of Hawaii that Skip had identified as needing support. But once her son completed his coast-to-coast journey, Potts, now the president of PFEE, shifted her focus to Maui.

“I have always felt that education is very important,” Potts explained. “And it’s easy to see that children in affluent neighborhoods have many more educational advantages than those who grow up in poor neighborhoods.”

Not long after PFEE was established, Potts signed up to be a Realtors Wishing Well…for Maui Students coordinator for Princess Nahi‘ena‘ena Elementary School (she is now the coordinator for King Kamehameha III Elementary School). She met with the vice principal to ask about the school’s needs and discovered that many parents worked multiple jobs or did not speak English at home, which made it difficult for students to have the extra support they needed for homework and other school projects. But then he told her about the Lahaina After School Tutoring Project, a program founded by West Maui residents Pat and Richard Endsley 17 years ago.

With the aim of increasing literacy and comprehension for West Maui public school students, the free tutoring program is staffed entirely by volunteer tutors who work with students on various subjects, while also helping them gain self-confidence, self-esteem and leadership skills.

Today, Potts serves on the Lahaina Complex Education Foundation’s (formerly the Lahaina Intermediate School Educational Foundation) board of directors, which sponsors the Lahaina Complex Tutoring Project. And for the past six years, Potts has volunteered as a sixth grade math tutor, and next year, she will be working with fifth graders.

Additionally, PFEE has coordinated a number of fundraising events and donated the proceeds to the tutoring program. Over the years, PFEE has organized the Aina Nalu Wine & Silent Auction Fundraiser for the Lahaina Complex Tutoring Project, with assistance from Aina Nalu condominium owners, Rotarians, tutor volunteers and other Realtors Association of Maui members. Since 2011, the biennial fundraiser has raised more than $84,000 for the program.

And every time Potts and her husband, Lee, close an escrow, they donate $100 to PFEE for the tutoring program. “We plan to continue supporting the tutoring program to ensure its long-term existence, while satisfying other educational needs for the West Maui public schools,” she said.

You can support the Lahaina Complex Tutoring Project—in the tastiest way possible—at Pi Artisan Pizzeria at the Outlets of Maui between now and Monday, May 14. Just present the code TUTOR18 to your server when you place your order, and 15% of the purchase will be donated to the tutoring program. Pi Artisan Pizzeria is located at 900 Front St. in Lahaina; call 667-0791 or visit www.pi808.com.

To learn more about People for Education Equality or to make a contribution, visit www.pfee.org. For more information about the Lahaina Complex Tutoring Project or to inquire about donor or volunteer opportunities, call 665-5815 or visit www.facebook.com/pg/LahainaTutorProject.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
Originally published in The Maui News – May 12, 2018

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