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Kanu o ka Aina Hawaiian Academy
I think I always realized that there were problems as far as the education of our Hawaiian children was concerned. I certainly was a problem to my teachers when I was going through elementary, intermediate and high school.
And when I became a Hawaiian language teacher in 1985 and went into the classroom for the first time, it was really really obvious that there were students in there that had lots of talents. They had lots of gifts. They wanted to learn, they wanted to know.
And they were very very excited to learn about their cultures and about their language and about the histories of their ancestors.
But the sad part was that, while they were doing good in my class, which I tried to teach from a Hawaiian perspective, the rest of their classes were disaster. They got A's in Hawaiian language in my class. And they got D's and F's in all of the other classes.
And so we said, we know that these students are not stupid. But we also know that the system that they're in right now does not allow them to succeed.
And so we said Well, then we have to change the system. We have to look at a system that is Hawaiian, to teach Hawaiian children in a Hawaiian way.
And we went into Waipio with about 25 students, from three years old to twenty-one years old. And we lived in Waipio. That was our school, that was our way of education.
We farmed the land. We looked at the clouds. We tried to look at what was, happened to the weather. We cleaned the auwais, or the irrigation ditches. We learned the chants, the songs, the stories of this valley and all the important things that our kupuna did there a long time ago.
We taught them how to speak Hawaiian by just talking to them in Hawaiian. We taught them the value of Hawaiian food by just giving them that Hawaiian food and feeling the energy that would come from that food.
And the next thing you know, we realized that the students were learning much much more, they would learn more during that one month in Waipio than they would learn in an entire school year at a public school.
And so, in 1996, I found out that there were schools within schools that did some things a little bit different. And I said Well, if in Honolulu there can a school within a school that focuses on tourism or on business, why can't there be a school-within-a-school in Honokaa High School that focuses on being Hawaiian?
We started in 1997 with two pods. A tenth grade and an eleventh/twelfth grade combination. Now we have 80 students, ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades. So we have four pods of students.
What has happened to those students in this short time has been phenomenal from a research basis.
And, just to share a little bit of this data, for example, we've had students that had a 1.2, 1.3, 1.5 when they entered the academy in tenth grade. They're now seniors and they're getting straight A's.
Now, some people could say Oh, you're just giving them the straight A's, but we also have standardized test scores that show that our model works.
For example, the HISTEC is a standardized test that, up to now, everybody in Hawaii had to take in tenth grade, and they need to take that in order to get a high school diploma.
The first year that we were in operation, our students, 88 percent of which are Hawaiian, who traditionally always go way below the average on those standardized tests, did 30 percent better than the rest of Honokaa High School.
Other things that really really show that this is working is our attendance. In the first year, we had a 58 percent decrease in absences.
When we asked our students why, you know, what do you enjoy about this program, what do you like, they say it's because somebody cares about them.
The name of our Hawaiian academy, which is a school within a school at High School, is called Kanu o ka Aina, which means natives of the land from generations back. And, as I said, eighty-eight percent of our students are Hawaiian.
What we are is natives of the land from generations back, but more importantly what we want to remain is natives of the land from generations back. And those of you who are familiar with the Hamakua side of the Big Island, you know, we live in an extremely economically depressed area and really our only chance of "success" is to move away.
And so that's our most important part is to give the students the skills to remain natives of the land from generations back. Number one, in terms of knowing who they are, knowing their cultural traditions, knowing their heritage, knowing their language, knowing their history, knowing how to live as a Hawaiian on a daily basis.
The other way that we will allow them to remain natives of the land from generations back is to give them the skills to economically survive in their communities.
So what we did this last legislation, we went into the legislature, we changed the law and what we're starting now in fall of 2000 is a K through 12 charter school designed and controlled by Hawaiians.
We don't want to be the only charter school, so we are inviting all other Hawaiian communities that are interested in designing and controlling their own education, to come and join us in this venture. Because this is the first time in history that we are allowed to do this, through this charter school effort.
It's only the first step, really, but it's where we're at right now. Because eventually, there's 47,000 Hawaiians in the DOE, the most undereducated group, not just in Hawaii, but in the entire United States. The last 1998 SATs, Hawaiian fourth graders scored the lowest in the entire nation. So these 47,000 Hawaiian students have a right to a quality education that is culturally driven, that is family oriented and that is community-based that will help them continue the culture, the tradition, the language of our kupuna into this next century, but that will also give them the skills to take economic, political, and cultural control of our homeland, which is Hawaii Nei.
Everything that we do within the Hawaiian academy and how we're planning to set up our charter school, is authentic. It's real world learning. working with the land, clearing the land, revegetating it with native plants. And revitalize those areas so that that will be a future living learning environment for them and for their children.
We incorporated a very high degree of technology from the very beginning, using the latest if media technology and educational technology. We'll be creating a publication. We'll be creating a video. We do on-line video editing, all of those kind of things.
Our Waipio project, they're creating an ahupuaa management plan for Waipio valley, will do an interactive CD-ROM. And then we have another project that is doing the resource mapping of Honokaa and they will be creating a website with those resources.
So the students are learning technology because that's one area that can help them to become, to sustain themselves economically in the future. It's also so that they can be a part of the 21st century global community through technology. And I think that's a very very important aspect.
The students cannot move into the future unless they understand the past. And so one of the things that we do is we tell the stories of the past to our students.
They also put on hula drama to recreate these stories and then they become real, not just for them, but for the community who are not aware of our traditional stories.
And another way that we keep these stories alive is through our songs. One of the songs is a song called Keiki o ka Aina, which means "children of the land, listen to the ancient stories."
And it's a song that my sister recorded. It was never meant to be recorded. It was only supposed to be to move story-telling along and involve the kids in stories.
But it's very very important for us to learn our ancient stories because that's where the wealth of the knowledge of our kupuna is.