The Native Hawaiian culture is a culture of voyagers and pioneers. Our ancestors possessed a comprehensive body of scientific knowledge in agriculture, botany, zoology, marine biology, geology, medicine, astronomy, oceanography, meteorology, and engineering, which supported the discoveries of new island homes across the Pacific Ocean, and made successful survival possible in a harsh/limited resource environment. However, nowadays, most Native Hawaiians are not found in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce; they work in the construction and tourism industries. The biggest failure of the currently available educational options is an inability to position Native Hawaiians in higher paying jobs, especially in STEM-related industries, which can break the cycle of poverty and its effects on children.
As educational attainment is strongly correlated with a higher income and better quality of life, Kūlaniākea proposes the “Kupu A'e” project to close the existing gap in culturally-appropriate STEM education by implementing an innovative bilingual Hawaiian-English program (curriculum, methodology, and materials). The goal is to create a balanced framework and methodology of integrated Hawaiian and English literacy and STEM education.
The program will focus on three areas/target population: teachers, students, and parents/community members.
TEACHERS: Overall early childhood education program’s quality and child developmental outcomes are positively linked with highly educated and trained teachers. The project will provide professional development opportunities to prepare teachers to address the unique needs of students within the context of Native Hawaiian culture, language, and traditions, Montessori methodology, and bilingualism. The teachers will undergo trainings in the Hawaiian language and culture, Montessori education, Parent Education and Curriculum development.
The teachers will demonstrate their mastery of the content matter by developing a bilingual STEM curriculum and implementing it at school. The curriculum will cover English and Hawaiian languages (vocabulary, texts, songs, legends, traditions), geography (maps, compass, directions, continents, bodies of water, calculating distances), agriculture and botany/ethnobotany (identification of native and invasive plants, use of plants for food, health, clothing, ropes, food preservation), health and wellness (traditional and modern knowledge on diet and exercise, cultural healing traditions, e.g. lomi - massage), astronomy (identification of stars and constellations, ancient star navigation, lunar and solar phases, calendar), oceanography (identification of winds, ocean currents, swells, ocean conditions, ocean landmarks), meteorology (wind, precipitation, clouds, weather conditions and weather prediction), zoology (native and invasive species, identification of animals, migratory and sedentary patterns), and engineering and construction (choosing materials and tools, measurements, building a canoe). The curriculum will combine the traditional Hawaiian STEM content and modern mathematics, science, technology, and engineering notions, utilizing hands-on activities in the classroom and on actual canoes. The curriculum will incorporate the required literacy, common core and science standards and connect Native Hawaiian traditional activities with modern (Western) STEM content.
As the teachers receive trainings and workshops, their knowledge of the content areas and teaching will improve, which will result in better instruction, quality interaction with children, and children’s increased performance. Professional development and positive teaching experience will increase the number of highly-trained Native Hawaiian teachers, providing quality educational experiences to Native Hawaiian children.
The proposed curriculum will ensure a language-, culture-, and science-rich environment, which will support the student’s knowledge, interest in, and academic performance in the Hawaiian and English languages and STEM. As children’s academic performance increases, so will their ability and desire to pursue further STEM studies and careers, which provide steadier and higher income.
CHILDREN: The program includes practical life, sensorial, physical and motor skills, social and emotional development, language, mathematics, botany, geography, art, music, drama, and environmental studies. In a Montessori environment, students do not sit at desks all day; they actively participate in activities in and outside of the classroom and learn by observing, doing an activity, or helping their peers. This methodology is similar to a traditional apprenticeship model and mirrors a Native way of learning by doing. A Montessori environment also includes children of mixed age and ability groups, which mirrors the practices of a Hawaiian home. Children receive both individual and small-group lessons. The most impactful factors of our program is not just delivering culturally-based, academically-rigorous content, but delivering it in a Native way. Such methodology greatly adds to development of academic and soft/communication skills.
Academic skills/school readiness - educational models, that combine STEM and literacy, show success in increasing knowledge and skills in science, vocabulary, writing, reading comprehension, and communication. Science and literacy share highly complementary and sometimes identical learning goals, cognitive processes, and discourse practices, as literacy activities support the acquisition of science concepts and inquiry skills, while inquiry science serves as a compelling context for literacy development. This approach combines literacy, Hawaiian culture, and STEM, as they won’t be taught as separate subjects. Incorporation of standards will ensure that the content is of high quality and aligned with state and national educational benchmarks and leads to educational gains. Early math skills in preschool are twice as strong a predictor of academic success as are reading skills. Children, who are exposed to STEM education very early, are more likely to excel academically and continue their studies in STEM. Bilingual education boosts academic performance in both languages and other subjects.
Social-emotional development – Kūlaniākea places an emphasis on developing not only core academic subjects, but also on cultivating interests and talents, making connections with the world around them and communicating in various ways. Part of the school’s responsibility is nurturing the spiritual, cultural, intellectual, social, emotion and ethical development of our children. This is accomplished through the Native approach to instructional delivery and classroom management. Our teachers model the school’s values to the students – aloha (love), ‘ohana (family), malama (taking care), and kuleana (responsibility). The students receive lessons in grace and courtesy, polite behavior and interactions. Children are taught to identify feelings and needs, state problems, and propose solutions using ho’oponopono (nonviolent communication and peaceful conflict resolution process).
Throughout the academic year, the children’s academic proficiency and school readiness are measured by the Hawaiian Language Proficiency Scale, a continuous qualitative observation assessment (Montessori-based) on the overall development, and the Hawai`i State School Readiness Assessment (HSSRA). These assessments, especially the qualitative daily observations and note-taking, give teachers and parents an understanding on how well a child is developing in his/her physical and social-emotional behaviors and skills – confidence in own skills, interaction with peers and adults, ability to handle difficult situations, articulate emotions and needs, and solve problem and conflict peacefully. At the end of the school year, students participate in a Ho'ike, a traditional graduation ceremony, during which each student demonstrates his/her practical application of the Hawaiian language, culture, and STEM to teachers, parents, and cultural practitioners.
We see the results of our approach in both academic and social-emotional development of the children. As they are learning about roles and responsibilities, knowledge and skills, required to be a captain, navigator, cook, doctor, deck hand on a voyaging canoe, they also learn that each person needs to communicate and work together for a canoe to cross the ocean. As they learn about land and marine flora and fauna, they also learn about their responsibility to protect our unique island environment for generations to come and what they can do on a daily basis to take care of the Earth. As they learn about traditional foods (taro, coconut, banana, fish, etc.), they learn how to eat healthy and take care of themselves. As they meet cultural practitioners and Native Hawaiians in STEM jobs, they do not just glimpse into what knowledge and skills they need in the future; they learn that the traditional and modern STEM are interconnected, and it is possible to be a traditionally-grounded Native Hawaiian in the modern world. As they follow Hokulea’s voyage (a Hawaiian canoe, circumnavigating the world utilizing only traditional methods), they learn about other countries and their environmental problems, how to relate to other diverse cultures, and that the traditional Native knowledge is still relevant and valued today. Most importantly, the combination of Native and Western knowledge presents a more objective view of the history and culture and reflects the contribution of the Native Hawaiians to the world history. As children identify themselves with voyagers and explorers, they gain confidence in their ability to navigate any situation and learn as they go; it teaches them about many other Pacific cultures; it allows them to connect the past and the future and recognize their role and responsibilities to this land; and it instills pride in being a Native Hawaiian.
We live in a nation, where English and mainstream STEM are educationally dominant and highly desirable for academic and social advancement and employment. Cultural knowledge and pride are important in all children’s cognitive and social development. The dual-language/multicultural approach prepares children to succeed in diverse cultural settings, regardless of whether they choose to pursue their education locally, nationally, or globally, while they maintain their identity, culture, language, and sense of place.
PARENTS: Kūlaniākea recognizes the role of parents and family as first teachers, caregivers, and collaborators. Integration of family is an underlying value of Native Hawaiian education. Not every parent is language and STEM proficient. Many parents indicated that, though they want to actively participate in a child’s language development, their Hawaiian language skills are either academic and formal or colloquial and informal, both are not geared toward full child language skill development, especially bilingual.
Kūlaniākea will organize school orientations, parent-teacher conferences, cultural and language workshops for families and community members, and semi-annual family events. These events will give the teachers an opportunity to observe parent-children interactions and provide additional support. Each month the teachers will develop activities for parents to implement at home with their children. The activities will be centered on the lives of children that occur daily or on a regular basis and provide adults in those situations with specific Hawaiian language tools, i.e., vocabulary, sentence patters, examples of conversations, and explanations of such examples. It will allow the parents to use Hawaiian comfortably, competently, and to a significant degree in those situations.
These activities will support the lesson plans, being implemented at school at the same time. These activities will also support parents in navigating their own language/identity and communication needs. They will allow parents and children to bond together over seemingly small daily tasks. These activities will create consistency and continuity of the language and culture use at school, home, and in the community. By strengthening resources for in-home learning for both parents and children, Kūlaniākea will give young children the greatest chance at developing strong family relationship and communication skills.
Our parents also experience educational and income inequalities. Providing a high- quality childcare can free adults’ time and significantly increase families’ employment rates and incomes; and, an increase in family income can improve children’s long-term outcomes.