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Punana Leo Preschools offer safe and unique learning opportunities for keiki

By Staff | Feb 12, 2021

Through strict hygiene and social-distancing protocols, Punana Leo o Lahaina (pictured) and all ‘Aha Punana Leo sites statewide welcomed keiki back to the classrooms in August 2020. There have been no incidents of COVID-19.

LAHAINA — Since implementing strict health and safety protocols at its preschool campuses statewide last summer, ‘Aha Punana Leo (APL) keiki (children) and kumu (teachers) have been able to return to the classroom and continue to engage and thrive in safe learning honua (environments). Without incidents of COVID-19 infections at any of its statewide sites since reopening, Punana Leo Preschools have set a precedent for the upcoming 2021-22 school year.

“The health and safety of our kumu, ‘ohana (family) and keiki are the foundation to us at Pūnana Leo o Lahaina,” said Leilei Ishikawa, Pūnana Leo o Lahaina site director.

“APL implemented safety protocols and training to ensure that we can continue to nurture and inspire our keiki and ‘ohana in a culturally rich learning environment. With the cooperation of kumu and makua (parents), we can kūkulu (build); we can establish our keiki’s aloha for their ‘āina (land), their language, their family and their love of learning.”

In line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Human Services (DHS) Guidelines for Child Care Facilities, APL has taken rigorous steps to sanitize and keep all of its preschool sites clean by creating hand sanitizing and hand washing habits before entering the classroom and throughout the day; separating and frequently disinfecting shared space areas and resources after every use; avoiding the use of items not easily disinfected (i.e. plush toys); and keeping all keiki belongings in separate, individual, labeled containers and cubbies, including pillows, blankets and face coverings, which are sent home each day for parents to clean.

Face masks, physical distancing and hand washing for keiki and kumu are also strictly enforced throughout the day per CDC and DHS guidelines, and visitors, including makua (parents), are also no longer allowed inside the facilities, except for essential workers, when necessary.

Sites with more capacity have also divided keiki into cohorts of no more than 12, which utilize separate learning honua to avoid sharing spaces and resources as much as possible. All in-person events, including field trips and participation in parades and fundraisers, have also been canceled. While hui kīpaepae (weekly language and cultural classes for parents) has transitioned online, participation continues to remain high at 80 percent.

APL plans to enforce its COVID-19 protocols at all of its Pūnana Leo Preschool sites statewide until further notice to ensure the ongoing health and safety of its keiki, ‘ohana and staff.

By keeping its site safe, Pūnana Leo o Lahaina is then able to operate at full capacity and continue to accommodate up to 12 keiki for the upcoming 2021-22 school year, which will start on Aug. 2, 2021 and run through June 17, 2022. Open enrollment is now available for keiki ages two years and eight-months-old up to age six. The early enrollment deadline is March 1, 2021.

“We are so grateful that the COVID protocols in place allow our keiki to be in school to learn and play in a safe environment,” said Mikey Burke, Pūnana Leo o Lahaina makua. “We see firsthand the importance of being physically immersed daily when in a Hawaiian language medium education. Our ‘ohana is grateful to the leadership of APL for working hard to bring our keiki back into the kula (school) safely to learn and grow.”

For ‘ohana interested in introducing their young keiki to ‘ōlelo Hawai’i (Hawaiian language), or giving them a head start on learning before entering a Pūnana Leo Preschool or other Hawaiian Medium Education programs, APL is offering its Aukukui Hikaaʻo ‘Ohana self-directed online learning program for preschool-aged keiki.

Born out of lessons and experiences while adjusting to distance learning last year, APL developed fun and interactive games, videos, worksheets and other resources to help keiki and their ‘ohana learn and practice ‘ōlelo Hawai’i at home.

APL’s online program is available to any ‘ohana. The one-year subscription includes unlimited access to 12 modules and activities for $100.

For more information about Punana Leo Preschools, its newest Aukukui Hikaaʻo ‘Ohana distancing learning and other programs, visit www.ahapunanaleo.org.

‘Aha Punana Leo is a nonprofit, family-based educational organization dedicated to the revitalization of the Hawaiian language. It is the world’s first accredited early education program conducted through an endangered and indigenous language, accredited by the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium.

There are 13 Pūnana Leo preschool sites throughout the state.