In Partnership with the Southern Weekend

Be A Hero. Be A Teacher.: The importance of Hawaiian Immersion Schools

Moving Hawaiian language and culture into the future

Sponsored by University of Hawaii System and “Be A Hero. Be A Teacher.” Initiative

40 years ago, the Hawaiian language was on the brink of extinction. With the help of Hawaiian immersion schools, the language was saved, and today there are more than 3,000 children fluent in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi. The University of Hawaii system hopes to perpetuate this through the Indigenous Teacher Education programs, which help to prepare teachers specifically for Hawaiian medium education.

“Through the schools we were able to regain our language and regain our identity,” says University of Hawaii at Hilo Hawaiian Language College Assistant Professor Kanani Māka’imoku. Māka’imoku explains that all of the coursework, Hawaiian language, culture and world view, is what sets the foundation for the program. “The coursework is in Hawaiian language, through the Hawaiian language, through the Hawaiian culture,” she says.

For their practicum experience, students are placed in Hawaiian immersion schools across the state.

“Many of them have the option to return to their own communities in which they were brought up in,” Māka’imoku says. “They have a tie to that place and it gives them more purpose in what they do as a teacher.” Māka’imoku explains that students are placed with mentors who are professionals and have knowledge and experience in Hawaiian medium education.

Many of the program’s graduates and current students are active members of their communities that support key issues facing the Hawaiian people and the land, such as Mauna Kea, where many of its faculty and students are educating the world about Hawaii.

“Knowledge of place and the history of this place is the backbone of the knowledge that should be taught to our children through Hawaiian,” says Kahea Faria, an assistant specialist in the College of Education at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“They say we had one generation of Hawaiian language loss, and with the loss of language we also had the loss culture and identity,” Māka’imoku says. “It’ll take three generation to gain it back.”

Māka’imoku explains that the preparation of these teachers for Hawaiian medium education is the core of moving Hawaiian language, knowledge and culture, forward into the future.

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