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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 6, 2004

Hawaiian school educates hands-on

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser education Writer

When students at Halau Ku Mana have math and science lessons, they are as apt to be outside learning how to build and navigate a Polynesian voyaging canoe as they are to be in a classroom cracking open a textbook.

Halau Ku Mana students Maui Cambra, front, and Maika Motas work with a mast for a canoe at the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa.

Other Halau Ku Mana students work with the canoe itself inside a hut at the Center for Hawaiian Studies. The canoe was built for the Hawaiian-based charter school.

Photos by Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

The Hawaiian-based charter school, now in its third year, uses hands-on projects, along with regular classroom instruction, to teach the state's educational standards. In addition to sailing and reef monitoring in the canoe, students can learn fish and limu cultivation at He'eia Fishpond and lo'i restoration at Lyon Arboretum and Kanewai Lo'i.

Healani Fisher, a freshman who came to the school from Kupono, a learning center on South King Street, said she decided to switch schools after her mother heard about Halau Ku Mana through the media. The school appealed to her because "it's more hands-on and I heard we got to work on a canoe," she said.

Working on Kanehunamoku, the school's canoe, makes learning more enjoyable, but she does not forget it's educational. "I'm learning about the math, and I'm learning about the navigating and science," she said.

Principal Keola Nakanishi pointed out that mastering those concepts can be critical, since they have to be recalled while facing wind and ocean swells. "You will retain it longer, and it will mean more to you than just hearing it in a lecture or reading it in a book," he said.

He added, however, that students also learn technology, language arts and math in the classroom. But even those classes are atypical, offering more choices, more group work and more attention to various learning styles. In addition, the courses integrate values and culture more than in a traditional school.

Five years ago, Nakanishi, whose parents are both educators, was 24 and working on his master's degree when he was encouraged to take charge of the start-up school. He jokes that he agreed because he is crazy, but becomes serious as he talks about the need for educational programs catering to those who learn differently. "The need is now," he said, "Just the Hawaiians alone, there's 50,000 in the public school being labeled special ed, flunking out, labeled as a behavior problem."

He prides himself on the growth he has seen in the students and notes that the school's attendance rate is 94 percent, even though some of the students would miss more than 100 days out of the school year at their former schools.

One of the school's greatest challenges is finding financing. The students, who have performed internationally, will take the stage at Hawai'i Theatre on Saturday in a fund-raising concert featuring Kainani Kahaunaele & the Wish List Band, Kaumaka'iwa "Lopaka" Kanaka'ole and Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom & Friends.

Senior Kana'i Chock, who previously attended Roosevelt High School, said the school's sense of 'ohana and ties between teachers and students are stronger and more expressive than at the traditional public schools. Learning about the culture has shaped his future, and he plans to go into law, focusing on Hawaiian issues.

The nurturing environment and hands-on instruction make it easier to learn, said sophomore Hi'ilani Moses, formerly a student at Stevenson Intermediate. Stevenson was all right, she said, but "it wasn't to the point where I really wanted to go to school," she said. "(Now) I look forward to coming to school."

• What are you most proud of? Principal Nakanishi said he is most proud of "the immeasurable successes of each and every 'opio (student) here at Halau Ku Mana," while students are proud of a performance they're putting on at the Hawai'i Theatre on Saturday.

• Best-kept secret: The students say the school is its best-kept secret, but added that they produced various programs on 'Olelo TV and a CD with original student work, popular and underground talent and chants learned at the the school.

• Everybody at our school knows: Everybody.

• What we need: Money and a permanent home.

Reach Treena Shapiro at 525-8014 or at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com.

• • •

At a glance

• Where: Currently based at the Atherton YMCA and the Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai'i, but will move to the Hawaiian Cultural Preservation Center at 2727 Manoa Road next year.

• Phone: 946-0253, Ext. 237

• Principal: Keola Nakanishi, since the school opened in 2001

• School nickname: Navigators

• School colors: Yellow, for kahuna and sun/spirituality, red for ali'i and mo'oku'auhau (genealogy) and green for maka'ainana (people) and 'aina (land).

• Web address: www.halaukumana.org (under construction)

• Testing: Here's how Halau Ku Mana students fared on the most recent standardized tests.

Stanford Achievement Test: Listed is the combined percentage of students scoring average and above average, compared with the national combined average of 77 percent. Eighth-grade reading, 45.5 percent; math, 71.5 percent. Tenth-grade reading, 66.7 percent; math, 66.6 percent.

Hawai'i Content and Performance Standards tests: Listed is the combined percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards, and a comparison with the state average. Eighth-grade reading, 7.1 percent, compared with the state average of 37.2 percent; math, 7.1 percent, compared with state average of 15.7 percent. Tenth-grade reading, 30 percent, compared with the state average of 34.7 percent; math, 0 percent, compared with state average of 15.1 percent.

• History: Halau Ku Mana is the culminating vision of Mana Maoli, a hui of individuals and collectives that share a vision of community empowerment through quality, culture-based education, economic self-sufficiency, holistic health and networking of resources. It was the first start-up school granted a charter in 2000, and opened for students in 2001. Kanehunamoku, the school's Polynesian voyaging canoe, was built the same year. First hosted by Kamakakuokalani, the program now operates primarily out of the Atherton YMCA and will move to the former Paradise Park site next year.

• Enrollment: 70 students, ages 11 to 18. Next year the school expects to have 90 students.

• Computers: 11