Sunday, April 22, 2001

Hawaiian studies
get double boost
from BOE

By Leila Fujimori

Supporters of Hawaiian educational programs won a double victory when the Board of Education approved the first issuance of a charter to a Hawaiian-language immersion school and finalized a Hawaiian studies and language programs policy.

"We put in a lot of work, ensuring we had a really solid program to make sure we didn't run into any problems," said Sarah Leinaala Thornton, chairwoman of the Ka Umeke Kaeo Interim School Board. "It's lots of years of ups and downs, lots of roadblocks."

Thornton is the mother of twin 7-year-old boys who attend the immersion school now held at Keaukaha Elementary School in Keaukaha, a Hawaiian Home Lands community near Hilo.

Thornton traveled from the Big Island along with a contingent of educators and parents to testify on behalf of the proposed charter school Keau Ka Umeke Kaeo. Though well-prepared, the group received no objections from the board.

The school board also unanimously approved a policy for Hawaiian studies and language programs in all Hawaii public schools. The policy will restore Hawaiian studies resource teacher positions in all schools.

The policy says the Department of Education will support and establish programs to ensure Hawaii's native culture and language are preserved for future generations.

"It is a victory and a step forward for better times and better support for the kupuna who want to give support to all the children," said Carol Puanani Wilhelm, who has overseen the Hawaiian studies programs. "It took two years of negotiating what a policy might look like."

Support for the program had diminished when all Hawaiian studies resource teacher positions were eliminated in 1995 in departmental reorganizing, she said. The resource teachers had given the kupuna training, provided materials and helped organize the program.

"The kupuna kept it alive and kept it running," she said.

Kupuna Diane Hatori, 65, who has been teaching in the Hawaiian studies program for 17 years at Ewa Beach Elementary School, said the policy "means that we stay in the Hawaiian studies program."

Although the immersion school will continue to share the campus with Keaukaha, the charter means complete control of resources, said Monica Kahealani Naeole-Wong, teacher and vice chair of the interim school board.

The school of 300 students, which began in 1987, has no plans to expand and will continue to serve the community -- which is about 98 percent Hawaiian or part-Hawaiian -- along with Kamehameha Schools and Keaukaha Elementary School.

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