Hawaiian immersion benefits all of Hawaii

Na Leo Kako’o, the parent group for Ke Kula Kaiapuni ‘o Maui, continues to look for viable solutions toward building capacity in the current Hawaiian Language Immersion Program here on Maui. Although it is the fiduciary responsibility of the state and the Board of Education – according to its own policy 2105 – to support the immersion program in its planning and procedures, families seeking immersion education have historically been marginalized to the wading pool.

The growth and development of our children’s immersion education has been stifled in the current English-dominant environment of Paia School. This does not discredit the caring and dedicated staff who service all students there. Rather, this is a testament to program needs. Although, olelo Hawaii is the standard within kaiapuni classrooms, once outside those walls immersion students often revert to English in order to conduct daily school business or simply adjust to social norms. This effect is adverse to the revitalization and continuation of Hawaiian language and culture. Beyond simply accommodating growing numbers, NLK believes most strongly that the quality of education our keiki receive is of critical importance to the effectiveness of the program. It seems clear that a shift is needed to better align the current environment at Paia School to kaiapuni program goals and balance the playing field for the nearly 70 percent of the children it serves.

Therefore, NLK has recently proposed the conversion of Paia School to a full immersion site, where olelo Hawaii is at the center of education. Understandably, this action has sparked a very passionate discussion between stakeholders. At a community meeting held recently at Paia School, heartfelt and often tearful testimony could be heard from both supporters and opponents of a conversion. There are families in the Paia community who prefer to see the school remain as a predominantly English-centered learning environment inclusive of a Hawaiian language program. The thought of a conversion brings feelings of hurt and fear of displacement for some whose connection to the school spans several generations.

So I sat and listened, having to wipe my own eyes at times, and I wondered: Are we doing the right thing?

How will the Paia community ever embrace such a major change that seems to imply no direct benefits to the people currently entitled to attend Paia School by virtue of the current geographic lines? A disturbing misconception was that we wanted to kick out English-speaking students when the idea of a conversion from its inception proposed a well-planned transition that would not simply put kids out. What we want is an inclusive olelo-centered school and access to appropriate and equitable education for our keiki. The scales have long since been imbalanced.

This imbalance at times reduces the voices of our children to a nicety on campus and this is unacceptable. Exploitation of Hawaiian culture is rampant in our society and has very damaging effects to the value our children eventually place on themselves. The truth is that Hawaiian immersion education, beyond revitalizing a language, helps to reconcile Hawaii’s past cultural dissemination, guard against current commercialization and restore its people with the foundational understanding of who we are and love for ourselves and others.

The BOE, Paia and the Maui community at large can champion this monumental effort to make a difference beyond any individual ohana on either side of the table, and allow for change that will undoubtedly benefit the greater good of Hawaii and generations to come.

* Kalele Kekauoha-Schultz is a parent of children in Ke Kula Kaiapuni o Maui, an educator and a Hawaiian cultural practitioner.