By KEKOA ENOMOTO, Staff Writer
POSTED: August 30, 2009
This weekend the Hawaiian Language Immersion program celebrates its 20th anniversary in Maui public schools with a Ho'olaule'a featuring award-winning entertainment, games and food.
After two decades, this "Kula Kaiapuni" program is nurturing its second generation of speakers of the isles' indigenous language, with the pioneer students now leading the way as teachers and mentors.
"We see folks like Henohea now as an instructor at Kekaulike," said kumu hula Hokulani Holt, referring to Henohea Kane - kumu alaka'i, or lead immersion teacher, at King Kekaulike High School.
"It has come full circle to her now being a kumu in the Hawaiian immersion program. I think that is wonderful," said Holt, whose daughter, Kani'au Kai'anui was an original Maui Kaiapuni student.
Kula Kaiapuni started Sept. 5, 1989, on Maui, according to event organizers. The new program witnessed lobbying and sign waving for support and funding. Families and friends painted classrooms, planted a cultural garden and developed a school-library section.
The program now embraces some 140 youngsters in kindergarten through 5th grade at Paia School, 49 youths in grades 6 to 8 at Kalama Intermediate School and 30 students at King Kekaulike High School.
An educator whose Valley Isle roots go as deep as her Maui Kaiapuni roots said the vision of Kula Kaiapuni is manifest after 20 years of immersion education.
Keiki Kawai'ae'a, whose parents are Edward Chang Jr. of Makena and the former Maureen Sakugawa of Omaopio, was Maui's first Kaiapuni teacher. She now serves as director of the Kahuawaiola Indigenous Teacher Education Program at the University of Hawaii-Hilo. Kahuawaiola prepares immersion teachers and also grants a master's degree in indigenous language and culture education, she said.
"Immersion is about preparing children to compete and succeed in the contemporary world, but have connections grounded in Hawaiian language and things Hawaiian; to live in a dual world and be successful; and be ever more successful for that kind of exposure," said Kawai'ae'a, 52, of Keaukaha, Hawaii island.
"I give teachers tremendous credit because it is difficult to sustain those challenges for two decades," she said.
Kane entered Kula Kaiapuni in 1st grade at Paia School and continued on to graduate with the inaugural immersion class of 2001 from King Kekaulike High. After having been a Kaiapuni student and now serving as a Kaiapuni instructor, Kane has observed that the immersion process has a profound influence on one's cultural values.
"It develops more compassion within each child," said Kane, 26, who was crowned 2009 Miss Aloha Hula at the Merrie Monarch Festival hula competition in April. "They develop differently, with more respect and more love.
"It's kind of like in Japan: We don't want to make our ancestors shame. Our community is so small, we work together, love one another. So we have to do right because what we do affects the generation above us and those who come after us," she said.
Her classmates Kai'anui and Leinani Sakamoto serve as mentors in the Mu'o A'e program of Maui Community College, providing support for first-time, full-time Native Hawaiian college students.
Waiehu resident Kai'anui, 26, sees the indigenous language as a unique legacy of the islands.
"For me, a lot of people are learning Hawaiian to learn a foreign language. Other languages have a native land in which to survive, but Hawaiian will not survive anywhere else but here. If the Hawaiian language dies in Hawaii, it will die in the world; so I think it's important that our language continues, regardless if it's with Hawaiian-blooded people or non-Hawaiian people perpetuating the language," said Kai'anui, who is pursuing an educational doctorate through the University of Southern California.
Sakamoto, 26, of Makawao believes the immersion process enhances one's sense of place.
"It's not just a regular school; it involves the family and, therefore, the community a lot more. Students feel a lot more connected not just to the language and the culture, but also to where you are," said Sakamoto, who's taught immersion at Lahaina Intermediate and King Kekaulike High schools.
Upcountry resident Ki'ope Raymond spearheaded the Hawaiian Language Immersion movement on Maui two decades ago, hiring Keali'i Reichel and Kekuhi Kanaka'ole to teach in the fledgling Punana Leo immersion preschool. Raymond - 54, assistant professor and senior faculty member of the Hawaiian Studies Program at MCC - indicated that by learning and speaking the indigenous language, one becomes a cultural practitioner who honors one's kupuna.
"You do it all through the medium of the Hawaiian language, which is what our ancestors did: You dance in Hawaiian, you plant kalo in Hawaiian, you surf in Hawaiian.
"English language has its merit, but it's not the language of our ancient ancestors, and we honor them by using Hawaiian for the greater good," said Raymond, who's placed two children in immersion schooling.
Holt, kumu of halau Pa'u O Hi'iaka who taught hula and chant to the first immersion classes, noted that Paia immersion students' daily entrance chant is a microcosm of Hawaiian cultural practice.
"The Kaiapuni system is intended not only for Hawaiian Language Immersion, but also to instill in the children Hawaiian cultural behaviors and understandings," she said.
"I don't recall if it was on the first day, but eventually the students had to do an entrance chant, and the teachers continue to this very day to have the children stand outside the classroom and chant requesting to enter; and then the teachers respond in chant form as well. That way, the children are led to know that being in school is important, and it needs to be prepared for and they need to request the privilege to enter the classroom.
"So that eventually is what occurred for every child every day of their school life when they were in Kaiapuni," Holt said.
For a 49-year-old Paukukalo resident, immersion has laced her parenthood, her career and now her grandparenthood. Leihua Nae'ole is a Baldwin High School Hawaiian-language teacher whose son, Kapena Maddela, was an inaugural immersion graduate of King Kekaulike and two of whose grandchildren attend Kula Kaiapuni at Paia. She feels great pride that three generations of her ohana are fluent in Hawaiian.
"I've come full circle as a (Kaiapuni) teacher's aide and as a teacher watching the program grow, and I am just so proud my grandchildren are going to be the third generation of speakers," said Nae'ole, who chose to teach at Baldwin to expose nonimmersion Native Hawaiian students to their indigenous language.
"I am going to die happy and die with a legacy. This is what I started, and it will continue to go on," she said.
Moses Kane Jr. - retired 25-year Maui police officer, Roberts school bus driver and bass player for Reichel's Halau O Ke'alaokamaile - has enrolled all three of his children, including Henohea Kane, in the Hawaiian Language Immersion program. On the advent of Kaiapuni's 20th anniversary, he reminisced with parental fulfillment at the long hours, sacrifices and results.
"I just wanted my children to have what I didn't have: learning the language and learning the culture," he said.
"It's been a long time since the beginning of Kaiapuni. It's been a struggle, especially for the lead class, Henohea's class. We persevered, but we kept going from Paia Elementary to Kalama Intermediate to Kekaulike. We came across a lot of stumbling blocks because we were going into something new, especially on Maui, because we didn't have the resources like Oahu and Hilo where the university is."
He recalled the initial immersion teachers had translated entire books from English into Hawaiian; then parents had cut and paste homemade texts. "That took some time, but, you know, you gotta do what you gotta do if you want anything to work. It was a lotta work, a lotta hours, but it's worth it if that's what you want for your children.
"I don't think anybody thought the children from Hawaiian Language Immersion could make it outside of the immersion program or environment. But from her (Henohea's) class, four went on to college. Of course, one (Le'ahi Hall) went to Stanford, two others to the University of Hawaii; so at least four of the six went to college and got degrees.
"So I am very proud of them. They have blazed the way for the rest of the kids. The kids really look up to them," Moses Kane said.