Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Halau Ku Mana Instructor Nohea Stibbard teaches a computer class in which students learn to touch type.

Learning by doing

Halau Ku Mana
public charter school
disadvantaged youngsters
will hold a 'fun-raiser'

Mana Maoli 7th Generation
'Welcome Back' Concert

Where: University of Hawaii at Manoa (behind Hawaii Hall, mauka of Manoa Gardens)
When: 3 to 10 p.m. Saturday
Admission: $5 donation
Call: 947-4878
Note: Lineup for first half of day's concert: Ernie Cruz Jr., Kilinahe, Kauha'a, Kupa'aina, Jon Helm and Native Sounds of Da Underground

Second half: Lahaina Grown, John Cruz, Natural Vibrations, B.E.T., O-shen, Ooklah the Moc, Moemoea and Sudden Rush

Students from six Hawaiian public charter schools on Oahu and the Big Island will also perform

Among Hawaiians there is a prophecy that the seventh generation of Hawaiian people will help their nation rise to its rightful prominent place. It sounds like a heavy responsibility, but special attention is being lavished on the children of the Halau Ku Mana New Century Public Charter School, where students from age 11 to 17 can learn in a supportive "hale atmosphere," according to Principal Keola Nakanishi. It's a comfortable, homey environment that expands beyond the typical classroom's four walls.

In three years the school has turned 75 students, who had fallen through the cracks in the public school system, into eager learners through lessons of math, science and language presented in culturally appropriate ways.

"It's learning by doing," Nakanishi said. "Ma ka hana ka 'ike -- knowledge through action."

The school's makeshift "campus" and offices are at the University Atherton YWCA. But on Friday, learning through action meant one group of students was at the Lyon Arboretum tending to a native plant garden. Another was in Mapunapuna at a multimedia production house working on a commercial for the school's Saturday concert. Another was at the Heeia fishponds performing maintenance work, and another was studying at the Bishop Museum.

Language, math and computer classes were taking place at the Y at the same time. On top of that, the nearby Center for Hawaiian Studies on Dole Street serves as another minicampus for the school.

"We keep multiage students grouped together by ability, with the older students helping the younger. It keeps them challenged, and with classes that are like built-in field trips, it's a good curriculum that keeps them engaged," Nakanishi said.

Stressing Hawaiian language, values and culture has changed the lives of disadvantaged students from areas like Waianae, Kalihi, Nanakuli and Papakolea.

"I hear it from their parents, their siblings, their neighbors about how any one kid was such a punk, but now they're so polite," Nakanishi said. A number of the students have been expressive enough to testify in support of the school before the state Legislature last session.

With a small budget stretched to its limits -- including van shuttles and lunch service provided by the Lanakila Rehabilitation Center's cafeteria -- it's not surprising that Halau Ku Mana has depended on the occasional benefit for financial help.

The school has hosted an annual concert at the Hawaii Theatre for two years, but this year, the school's staff is more ambitious. Students and faculty will stage an outdoor concert Saturday at the University of Hawaii with a threefold aim.

"It'll be a family-style 'fun-raiser' to not only welcome back our students to school, but UH students as well," Nakanishi said. "The concert will also provide a link between the charter school, the university and the community at large. And we will celebrate the release of our CD 'Mana Maoli -- The 7th Generation.'"

Alan Delos Santos, 13, and Kalei Baldwin, 13, are two of the young songwriters who contributed to a CD being issued by the Halau Ku Mana New Centruy Public Charter School.

THE COMPILATION CD has been in the works as long as the school's been in existence. Writing the opening chant (or oli) and a song about a beloved family member were the projects for two of its students, Maka'ala Yates and Alan Delos Santos. The two boys speak well of their first-year contributions, pieces of music that were recorded in Nakanishi's office or his bedroom with a portable recorder donated by singer-songwriter Guy Cruz's Four Strings Productions.

In learning basic recording skills and techniques, "Oli Aloha" (performed by the students) and "Awapuhi" (with Delos Santos singing multiple vocal tracks) represent education in action, one of the tenets Halau Ku Mana stresses.

"I first thought of the lyrics, singing them to myself," Yates said. "The next day, a girl brought in her own lyrics, and then my cousin brought in the melody. The story behind the oli is that how we're 'ku kamaka,' plants that are still growing. I hope we do a second album, so I can write another song."

Using the metaphor of comparing people to plants was also used by Delos Santos. His song "Awapuhi" compares his grandmother to the ginger plant. "She's still learning, like a plant growing." he said. "She's the 'mom' who adopted me when I was young. The only music I knew before I started singing was playing the ukulele and a little bit of piano. But here, I was taught how to sing by opening up my voice."

The students are sometimes backed by the Native Sounds of Da Underground, with additional contributions by Guy Cruz, Ernie Cruz Jr., Bla Pahinui, Joe Espinda and members of the roots reggae band Ooklah the Moc.

"Once the artists knew who, what and why we are -- a Hawaiian-designed and controlled education project -- they were excited to support us," Nakanishi said.

Program director Dan Ahuna, left, reviews Hawaii content performance standard test scores with Keola Nakanishi.

THE CONCERT calls for a collective effort, and Nakanishi says it's all part of what the school represents, "a 'mana-festation' of living out our vision, of womb-to-tomb education and growing in the real world. It's cultural and community based -- a multiage, interdisciplinary kind of teaching that promotes teamwork and gives stability and grounding to the students.

"The CD shows the students that music is a good, expressive outlet. It's a positive and healthy 'addiction' and a pono way to express yourself. We gave them the time and the space to write and perform their haku mele."

Nakanishi acknowledges it's tough for a charter school such as Halau Ku Mana to work under the same Department of Education standards as other public schools and yet be held to higher accountability standards in exchange for the freedom to develop its own curriculum.

"We're trying to bring all of our students to the DOE's 12th grade of standards without the funding and training. There's no equity for charter schools," he said.

The school's ohana atmosphere is such that 10 of the children have family members who work there.

"I feel that the behavioral, social and emotional growth that happens here is just as important as the standard education they're receiving," Nakanishi said. "It's all about making things pono, righting the wrong."

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