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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 14, 2006

Keaukaha school community-focused

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

Kumu Joe Valente helps student Falealo Mauga, right, in an outdoor pre-algebra class at Ke Ana La'ahana Public Charter School in Hilo.

KEVIN DAYTON | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Where: 1500 Kalaniana'ole Ave., Hilo, HI 96720

Phone: 961-6228

Principal: Puanani Wilhelm, 5 months

School name: Ke Ana refers to a cave, which previous to Western educational intervention, was often used as a place of learning and education. La'ahana is one of two daughters of Ma'ikoha, embodiment of the wauke plant, used for making tapa. La'ahana is symbolic of the hiapo, or older sibling who is responsible for Lauhuki, the younger sibling. Having her as our "patron" is significant in that she is a model of hard work, of artistic talent, of functionality, and of patience (since it is required to make tapa).

History: Ke Ana La'ahana (KAL) Public Charter School is in Keaukaha, within the district of Waiakea on the Big Island. It is a secondary (grades 7-12) school that was approved by the Board of Education on Jan. 11, 2001. The school opened its doors to students in August 2001.

  • Enrollment: 84 students, in a school built for 100

  • Percentage of low-income enrollment: 71 percent

  • Technology: Wireless Internet access, about 25 computers

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    HILO, Hawai'i Ke Ana La'ahana Public Charter School was founded by parents and teachers who worried that too many youngsters from Keaukaha were getting lost and alienated in the hallways of Hilo Intermediate School.

    Youngsters would complete their studies at the relatively cozy Keaukaha Elementary School, which has less than 40 students in each grade, but would struggle the next year when they were dropped into an intermediate school with almost 300 students per grade.

    Ke Ana La'ahana emphasizes the family and personal connections, and the deep ties most of its students and parents have to a community made up mostly of families living on Hawaiian Home Lands. Those connections are a strength that helps the school advance students' education, said principal Puanani Wilhelm.

    "Many of these kids, their grandparents have lived here ... Most of these kids have longtime roots in the community, so their families are very involved and supportive because they are the ones who said, 'We want to keep our kids here so we can nurture them in a different way,' " she said.

    Wilhelm cited the example of Keonaona Kapuni-Reynolds, the school administrative support specialist, and fiscal officer Mapuana Waipa. Both were "born and raised here in Keaukaha. They know everybody."

    "They know all the kids' families, they know all the stories. They have kind of a unique ability to facilitate communication with parents," Wilhelm said.

    The school began with about 75 students attending classes in tents on land leased from Kamehameha Schools, and it has stayed small.

    That is partly because some upper-level high school students want to transfer to Hilo High for the array of extracurricular activities offered at the larger school. The senior class has 12 students this year.

    The school has one building with classroom and administrative space, has tents outside for open-air classrooms, and at times borrows classroom space from the Hawaiian cultural organization Edith Kanaka'ole Foundation next door.

    The school grounds are maintained by the students, and some of the seniors are working on a proposal to expand the school to provide more classroom space, Wilhelm said.

    Although about 90 percent of the school's students live in Keaukaha, Ke Ana La'ahana has also attracted a steady influx of students from outside the community who want that small, nurturing environment and an education grounded in Hawaiian cultural values.

  • What you are most proud of: That we are educating students in their home community.

  • Best-kept secret: Most of our teachers and staff have connections to the Keaukaha community they either live here or have genealogical ties to the area.

  • Everybody at our school knows: Kumu Lehua Veincent. He is a founder of the school and the school's former principal. He is now principal at Keaukaha Elementary. All the students know him because he also works at night at the Queen Lili'uokalani Children's Center, tutoring community students.

  • Our biggest challenge: Keeping focus on what is important culturally while trying to meet student's academic, emotional and physical needs, and long-term aspirations.

  • What we need: More facilities, and teachers who are committed to our students and our community.

  • Special events: Keaukaha Kalikimaka, Career Day (organized and put on by Grade 10 students), Health Fair (Makahiki)

  • Notable alumni: Not yet, but soon.

    Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com.