Saturday, June 5, 1999

Hawaiian language
school has first grads

Taught mainly in Hawaiian,
the six hope the immersion
program gets more resources

By Crystal Kua


The graduates

Kaimalino Andrade

Hoku Fox

Kini Ka'akimaka

'Anela 'Omaunakea Lopez

Kahea Na'auao

Kaliko Palmeira

Hawaiian language immersion classes have ignited a fiery spirit in six teen-agers.

"You have to be a fighter, or else you're going to be pulled down," 18-year-old Kaimalino Andrade said.

"I think it's a struggle for us to survive in this English-dominated world," said classmate 'Anela 'Omaunakea Lopez, 17.

The struggles endured by Lopez, Andrade and fellow seniors Kini Ka'akimaka, Hoku Fox, Kaliko Palmeira and Kahea Na'auao will culminate in their graduation at 4 p.m. today at the Hawaiian language immersion program at Anuenue School in Palolo Valley.

As the first graduating class of Kula Kaiapuni O Anuenue, they hope the attention they receive will translate into appreciation, acknowledgment and resources for the program that has nurtured their academic and cultural well-being.

With lessons taught primarily in the Hawaiian language, the immersion program began as a pilot project in 1987 at two public schools -- 12 students at Waiau Elementary in Leeward Oahu and 16 students at Keaukaha Elementary on the Big Island.

All six seniors started in the program at different times, with Na'auao starting the latest -- at third grade -- not knowing any Hawaiian.

"It was pretty confusing at first," Na'auao said.

"All you hear is the teacher talking straight up to you all in Hawaiian. You're over there just nodding your head or crying."

1,600 students in 16 schools

He eventually found a friend who spoke to him in English. "Then slowly you start getting the language down."

The immersion program has now grown to 16 public schools with about 1,600 students and a budget of about $1.1 million statewide.

Anuenue opened as a kindergarten-through-12th grade immersion school four years ago.

The growth of the program also led to growing pains for parents, teachers, students and other supporters who fought to keep the program alive and flourishing, which has been the key to its survival.

"No money, no resources," Palmeira chanted as he sat in front of secondhand weight equipment that was donated to the school.

There were years of cutting and pasting to translate English textbooks into Hawaiian and receiving hand-me-down books, furniture and other school necessities.

"I think we appreciated what we had already," Lopez started.

"But we wouldn't mind having more," Palmeira finished.

As a result, the six have become more politically savvy than most their age.

They lobbied the powers that be each time their program or their culture was threatened. "So every time a bill comes out, we're there," Palmeira said.

"To change the system to get a new system, you have to know the existing system," Andrade said. "We're more aware of how the system works."

'A stronger sense of self'

They say they know what they've gone through will help a new generation of Hawaiian-speaking children.

"Right there, that's the future," Andrade said, pointing to Fox's brother Akalia, a 16-year-old junior at the school, who was sitting at an iMac computer.

The class of 1999 at one time numbered 20, but now is down to these six.

Senior class adviser Moea DeFries said the preparation at the school went beyond academics. "They have a stronger sense of self, of who they are," DeFries said.

Now, they can go out into the world and be proud of their language and culture in whatever they choose to pursue, she said. "That's first and foremost, the perpetuation of the Hawaiian language through these keiki," DeFries said.

Some of the seniors are college-bound. Lopez plans to attend the University of Hawaii-Hilo and study environmental science, hoping to teach in Hawaiian someday. Na'auao plans to study radiology at Kapiolani Community College.

But Ka'akimaka said perpetuating the culture begins with the family, and she will raise her 1-year-old son and another baby on the way. "Learn your language. Learn who you are and stay strong."

They all say they have no regrets.

"It's OK. We turned out good," Palmeira said.

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