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Lahainaluna High School teacher one of two 2019 Teacher of the Year finalists from Maui

By BY CINDY SCHUMACHER - | Nov 14, 2019

Kau’i Spitalsky from Lahainaluna High School was one of 13 finalists statewide for the 2019 Hawaii Teacher of the Year Award.

LAHAINA – Hawaiian Language Immersion teacher Kau’i Spitalsky from Lahainaluna High School was one of 13 finalists for the 2019 Hawaii Teacher of the Year Award.

She and Jessica Adkins, the other finalist from Maui High School, each received $600, as did the other finalists.

The ceremony, presented by the Department of Education, was held at Washington Place in the Hawaii Capital Historic District in Honolulu. Annually, the event honors the teachers who go above and beyond to ensure student success and well-being.

As a bilingual teacher, Spitalsky is certified to teach Hawaiian immersion classes from kindergarten to 12th grade. She is accredited by the Hawaiian Indigenous Teaching Program, Kahuawaiola, at Ka Haka ‘Ula o Ke’elikolani College of Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawaii in Hilo.

She also received her Bachelor of Arts in Hawaiian Studies with a minor in Cultural Anthropology at the same institution.

As the founder of the very first Hawaiian Language Immersion program at the historic Lahainaluna High School, Spitalsky embodies what it means to be a “kumu,” or teacher.

However, she says the Hawaiian word kumu means more than teacher.

“It also means foundation, an example, a source, a beginning and a reason,” she explained.

“E lawe i ke a’o m?lama, a e ‘oi mau ka na’auao – he who takes his teachings and applies them increases his knowledge. As a Native Hawaiian educator, I am always seeking educational opportunities for my students and myself to enhance our cultural learning experiences to make meaningful and positive actions as leaders of our community and environment.”

Spitalsky created the Hawaiian Language Immersion program in 2016, adding a grade level every year. She believes that her students are the embodiment of ancestral and cultural knowledge that will enlighten others to become lifelong learners and stewards of their communities.

Spitalsky started her kumu journey in Lahaina at Princess Nahi’ena’ena Elementary School, which is also home to Kula Kaiapuni O Maui Ma Nahi’ena’ena, a Hawaiian language immersion school.

Before she agreed to establish the Hawaiian language program at the high school, Hawaiian Immersion students were required to travel 30 miles away to continue their indigenous education in secondary immersion programs.

In 2016, she taught the Hawaiian language students of Lahaina for the first time in the high school program. In May 2020, those students will be the very first graduating Hawaiian Language Immersion class of Lahainaluna and the West Side.

“Also, this is the first year I am fortunate to have an additional Hawaiian Immersion teacher, John Ioane Ho’omanawanui, to help support the program,” Spitalsky noted.

“It is exciting, this year, to finally have a complete Hawaiian Language Immersion program from grades 9-12. We are currently teaching Hawaiian language arts, physical science, environmental science, 12th grade English and performing arts and crafts.”

Lahainaluna High School Principal Lynn Kaho’ohalahala said, “It was my honor to nominate Kau’i Spitalsky for Teacher of the Year.

“As a Hawaiian Language Immersion kumu, she founded the Hawaiian Immersion program at Lahainaluna High School four years ago starting with ninth-graders. This year, we will celebrate our first Kaiapuni graduating students in a historical event bringing Hawaiian language graduates full circle after 189 years. Spitalsky is the link connecting that circle.”

Creatively providing interdisciplinary units of study so the students were able to earn their required high school credits toward graduation required Spitalsky to design curriculum, because none existed in most content areas at the high school level.

“She has put in numerous hours beyond the school day in order to achieve quality education with a rigorous curriculum for each student,” said Kaho’ohalahala.

“She holds students accountable to a high level of achievement based on Hawaiian and English educational standards. This has been no easy task. She has stayed the course with a community vision in mind.”

Kaho’ohalahala mentioned that Spitalsky challenges herself to grow by participating in professional development provided by the Office of Hawaiian Education as well as Lahainaluna’s own professional development activities.

“She has visited other Kaiapuni schools to learn as much as she can about the programs on those campuses. She serves on state level committees such as Hawaiian standards, assessments, peer review and development of Kaiapuni courses in biology and first-year algebra. Also, she represents our school at the quarterly ‘Aha Kauleo meetings – a statewide council of parents, teachers, administrators of the Hawaiian Language Immersion schools, and community representatives.”

Spitalsky is committed to growing the Kaiapuni Program not only in West Maui but across the state. At the same time, she is focused on the Sense of Place of Lahainaluna, providing education on the rich history of Lahainaluna’s roots.

“She is an outstanding example of a teacher who has mastered the art of teaching in both Hawaiian and English languages,” said Kaho’ohalahala.

“She leads by example, building the foundation of Hawaiian education for current and future students.”

Jordan Puliki Rogers, Lahainaluna sophomore, said, “The most important thing that Kumu Kau’i has taught me was to aloha ‘aina, love the land. This is important to me and our community because the ‘aina provides so much for all of us.”

Junior Kimo Kahae said, “We are also learning how to give strong speeches in front of people. It is important to learn how to relate, through speech, to the community and to the world.”

Senior Kalia Anu McCabe said, “The most important lesson I learned from kumu is to set a good example for the young generations to come. If we act poorly it reflects on our family and where we come from.”

Senior Esekielu Kala Storer offered, “I learned how to aloha ‘aina, because once the land is destroyed, you cannot replace it. Ku Kia’i Mauna!”

Senior Daelisa Kaiwi Westbrooks added, “‘O kekahi mea a’u I a’o ai maia Kumu Kau’i, ‘o ia no ka pehea e ho’ola a’e ai I ka ‘olelo Hawai’i a me ka hana Hawai’i. ‘O kekahi mea waiwai a’u I a’o ai maia ia ‘o ia no? ko’u lawena kino a me ko’u makaukau e alaka’i i na keiki ‘opio me ka hiapo.” (One thing that I learned from Kumu Kau’i is how to revive the Hawaiian language and traditions. Another valuable thing I learned from her is how to be a leader to the younger keiki as an older student.)

Spitalsky concluded, “I am able to accept the Teacher of the Year finalist award in honor of the many kumu that have instilled ‘ike, or knowledge, in me. Their aloha for teaching inspires me to become a better teacher every day. Puana ‘ia me ke aloha pau ‘ole. It is my hope that educators and families receive my mele of aloha with an inspiration to connect our students to their home and to their people and be grounded in a foundation of aloha. To aloha ‘aina, to love this land; to aloha lahui, to love our people; and most of all to aloha ‘ike, to love knowledge. This everlasting aloha is how our hard work and dedication, as that of the many kumu before us, will prevail not only as a kuleana, a responsibility, but as a legacy for our students now and for many generations to come.”