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Lahaina student blossoms through artistic talent

By Staff | Jul 8, 2010

During a visit to his office in Washington, D.C., Sen. Daniel Akaka encouraged Lahaina artist Kiana Kirkman to pursue her dreams.

LAHAINA — Imagine the sunshine world of a toddler with loving, attentive parents, a baby sister and the warm embrace of the Lahaina community to grow up in.

A bright and happy personality sprung forth from Kiana Kirkman that was nurtured as a kindergartner at King Kamehameha III Elementary School here on the West Side.

But then dark clouds began to drift in to cast a shadow and dim the rays of joy being emitted from the little girl.

“Kiana was always a happy baby that would make the people around her smile — she loved being around people,” said Leah Kirkman, the youngster’s mom.

“At preschool (the former Carden Academy on Wainee Street), the teachers began to notice that Kiana was a little behind the other children, but would always catch up. It was the same at Kamehameha III in kindergarten.”

Judges picked Kiana Kirkman’s “Surfboard Fence” as the top entry from Hawaii.

Leah and her husband, Kimo, became more concerned when Kiana began to have a hard time in the first grade.

“This was a frustrating time for Kiana — and all of us,” said Leah. “She seemed to have difficulty in learning how to process information and had a lack of vocabulary, so we decided to retain her for another year in the first grade. This was a hard and emotional time for us. We were worried that we might have to take her out of school and home school her. She was shutting down.”

Kiana was diagnosed with APD, or Auditory Processing Disorder, which is a difficulty in processing information.

Kiana’s parents credit first grade teachers Leslie Vierra and Abbey Markulis, kindergarten teacher Candy Biggins and former King Kamehameha Vice Principal Steve Franz for smoothing out this transition period.

A major boost to help Kiana during this transition period came in the form of a supplementary program at King Kamehameha III School called Kreative Keiki Art Class (KKAC).

From left, Leah Kirkman, Sen. Roz Baker, Kiana Kirkman, Rep. Angus McKelvey and Kimo Kirkman celebrate Kiana’s Honorary Achievement Award from the State of Hawaii.

“Kiana had found a way to communicate through pictures she drew in Kindergarten,” said Leah. “She found drawing to be soothing for her. The Kreative Keiki program helped even more. She began to blossom within this wonderful program.”

Then some more wonderful things began to happen.

The Kreative Keiki class entered some of Kiana’s paintings into the Very Special Art (VSA) program founded by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith.

VSA recognizes the artistic talents of special needs children and adults alike from all corners of the world. Its message is, “Art is a part of life, not a privilege.”

The 2010 theme for the VSA event was “State of the Art,” which called upon the participants to express the personality of their home state — Hawaii in Kiana’s case — through an artwork piece.

Kiana painted an oil pastel of a fence made of surfboards in Haiku that had caught her eye. Embellished with a hula girl and palm trees, “Surfboard Fence” was sent to Washington, D.C., for viewing and judging.

Of the 5,500 art entries sent in from around the world, Kiana’s “Surfboard Fence” was judged to be the top entry from Hawaii and marked as a top ten percent overall winner.

It just so happened that the youngster was in her KKAC session when the contest representatives called to notify the teacher, who immediately told Kiana the good news.

With tears of joy streaming down her face, Leah rejoiced with husband Kimo. Both of them shouted, “We won! We won!”

An excited Kiana now introduces herself by saying, “Hi. I’m Kiana, and I’m an artist.”

She became a celebrity at school by being recognized on the morning news and received an Honorary Achievement Award from the State of Hawaii presented by Rep. Angus McKelvey and Sen. Roz Baker on the last day of classes.

Kiana was rewarded with two trips to Washington, D.C. Mom and dad decided to make it a family affair, so they all went to enjoy the momentous event.

The family left on June 5 on the eight-day excursion to attend the festivities sponsored by the VSA organization, which included opening ceremonies at the JFK Center with political dignitaries; entertainment from Marley Matlin, Patty LaBelle and a Chinese dance team; tours of the Smithsonian Art Museum; theater plays; and several interactive activities in art.

“There was a tour of the Capitol and the White House, and a congressional reception where we talked with Senator Daniel Akaka and Representative Mazie Hirono,” remembered Leah.    

“All of us had an opportunity to view the art works of the VSA World Art Festival and a Shakespearean Theater presentation by a cast of disabled performers.”

“It was an inspiration for us to hear these government officials recognize the participants, particularly our time with Senator Akaka as he urged Kiana to continue to pursue her dreams.

“And this whole experience has helped so much with Kiana’s confidence and self-esteem. It becomes a gift to inspire her to continue to try, to achieve more. It has helped her understand herself more and reinforced the loving, caring person within. The frustration from before is gone, and our home life is much easier and the communication ways are opened up,” Leah concluded.

The sunshine is back.