LAHAINA - The Hawaiian Language Immersion Program (HLIP) is expanding at Princess Nahi'ena'ena Elementary School in Lahaina, with the addition of a Punana Leo o Lahaina preschool class on campus.
A Halawai Ho'okama'aina (open house) introducing the Hawaiian language immersion preschool curriculum to the community will be held on Tuesday, April 26, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the elementary school library. The public is invited to attend.
It has been a long road for the HLIP community to establish the immersion language preschool at Princess.
Three parents spearheaded the grassroots campaign: Karyn Kanekoa, Jesica Cadiam-Standley and Suzie Kauhane.
"The original idea for a Punana Leo Preschool (at Princess) came from (Principal) Lynn Kaho'ohalahala. She expressed a concern for a need to establish a preschool to feed our existing Kula Kaiapuni (HLIP) program at Princess," Kauhane said.
"There are a few schools in the state which harbor Hawaiian immersion preschools within, so we used these examples to provide this for our community. I was the messenger to Karyn Kanekoa, who took the lead in obtaining the right connections to get the paperwork done and the site approved. She has made this preschool become a reality," Kauhane added.
"We have a growing Hawaiian immersion program here in Lahaina," Cadiam-Standley explained, "with most of them being exposed to Hawaiian starting in kindergarten.
"So a few of us mothers got together and started the long process to see this dream through; we realized with having a Punana Leo in Lahaina, the children of our community would be at an advantage by learning Hawaiian in their preschool years. We, as a lahui (people), are so grateful and blessed to see this venture come to fruition," she commented.
"Progress was slow at first, then all of a sudden it took flight," Kanekoa observed.
"They will be opening in August for preschool age children three to five. This is a full-time program, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.," Kanekoa announced in an interview with Lahaina News.
The first year, 14 applicants will be accepted in a classroom with two kumu (teachers) and a kahu overseeing the program.
"There is room to expand with more classrooms available, after the first year, if we have more applicants," Kanekoa advised.
HLIP classes are supported at Lahaina Intermediate for sixth, seventh and eighth grade students, as well.
"Next year, we have Kaiapuni keiki going to Lahainaluna (High School). So it is going to be a big year for us, because we're going to have students in the ninth grade," Kanekoa observed.
Liko Rogers has been teaching Hawaiian immersion on the West Side for 19 years, mostly in the kindergarten classroom.
He confirmed the opening of a classroom at his historic alma mater, where Hawaiian was once the official language of instruction.
"Lahainaluna has been allocated a position for a Hawaiian immersion teacher to start the program there next year. We are currently looking for a qualified immersion teacher to fill this position. We have several eighth-graders that are in the program at Lahaina Intermediate, and they are looking forward to continuing their Hawaiian immersion education," Rogers added.
The importance of immersion at an early age is stressed.
"Punana Leo means 'nest of voices' and depicts the dominant learning method in these centers as students are 'fed' solely their native language and culture, much like the way young birds are cared for in their own nests," the ahapunanleo.org website reads.
The first of Punana Leo preschools was established in Kekaha, Kauai, in August 1984. Since then, sites have been established in 11 different locations across the state.
Its curriculum has become the model for early learning in an endangered and indigenous language revitalization movement, serving as the foundation for an integrated preschool through doctoral program of education through the medium of Hawaiian language.
Punana Leo is a member of a kuyikahi (consortium) of an internationally recognized association of schools, organizations and university programs in Hawaii dedicated to re-establishing Hawaiian as the first and main language of the home. It is fully accredited under the early childhood education guidelines set by the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium.
The 'Aha Punana Leo is non-discriminatory in its admission practices. Anyone can apply.
Applications are available on the website. The annual tuition of $7,700 can be paid in monthly installments of $700.
"You can apply for funding assistance like any other program in the state, like Child Care Connection and Open Doors," Kaneokoa commented.
Sissy Rogers, treasurer of the Na Leo Kalele parent group, supports the establishment of the preschool classroom on the West Side: "It not only benefits everyone in the program, but it extends out to all ages, our 'ohana, our community and all who has the passion for our Hawaiian language, culture and the love for our 'aina."
For more information, visit ahapunanaleo.org or attend the meeting next Tuesday night.