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Hawaiian Language Immersion Program achieves milestone with first graduates from Lahainaluna

By Staff | Jun 4, 2020

LAHAINA Lahainaluna High School is a symbol of our West Side pride. Think of the scholars, the ancestors, the teachers, the students, the athletes that have tread along the lofty campus pathways.

The view alone is magical; a gift to cherish.

Known as the oldest high school west of the Rocky Mountains, it was founded in 1831, and all subjects were taught exclusively in Hawaiian.

The Hawaiian government was illegally overthrown by the United States in 1893; and, by the stroke of a pen in 1896, the Hawaiian language was banished from the schools and public places – a deliberate act of cultural genocide.

With the emergence of the Hawaiian Renaissance some 80 years later, there was a revival of the Hawaiian language across Hawaii nei.

For Lahaina, the goal was always to return the mana of a living Hawaiian language to the halls where it was once taught.

It was no easy trek; it took kupuna, kumu, kahu, kula, makua, keiki, ‘ohana and community collectively to achieve this monumental and hard-earned task.

It was a 22-year endeavor from the opening of the Punana Leo o Lahaina preschool at Waiola Church in 1998 to the graduation of the first five Kula Kaiapuni ‘o Lahainaluna students in 2020.

Advocates of the program are many. Their perseverance strong and commitment great.

With a 20-student enrollment requirement, the first hurdle was to extend the program from the private preschool at Waiola Church to the public kindergarten-first grade venue at Princess Nahi ‘ena’ena Elementary School; it opened its doors in the 2000-2001 school year.

Then growing the HLIP to Lahaina Intermediate and eventually to Lahainaluna each presented a unique quest, including finding qualified teachers, able and desirous of living in Lahaina, and developing a curriculum where none previously existed.

There is celebration due the first five – Enoka O La’i Phillips, Daelisa Kaiwi Westbrooks, Nainoa Kulukulualani-Sales, Josephine Leihuanani Fraser and Kaliakeanukoakilakilaoka’imiloa Chance McCabe.

Thus, 2020 is a historic occasion.

The goal of creating a new generation of native speakers and perpetuating the Hawaiian language and culture has been launched and is well-seated in West Maui; but it is just the start. There is more work to do.

According to a recent article published by the University of Hawaii Foundation, “It takes one generation to lose a language and three generations to recover it. The Hawaiian language renaissance is in the middle of the second generation. The language is still endangered, but the growing number of native speakers is encouraging.

“As one of the immersion movement founders describes it: ‘Our numbers are hope.’ “