Saving a language from extinction
|Photo gallery: Celebrating Hawaii's immersion schools|
|Video: Immersion schools mark 20th anniversary|
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Loren Moreno
Simultaneous ceremonies on five islands were held yesterday to celebrate 20 years of Hawaiian language immersion education, which began in 1987 with two schools and has since grown to 23 programs statewide.
On O'ahu, about 500 students from seven immersion programs gathered at Anuenue School in Palolo to acknowledge the two-decade effort to preserve and perpetuate Hawaiian language and culture through immersion education.
During the ceremony, conducted almost entirely in Hawaiian, educators acknowledged the strides that have been made to revive the native language.
"When we started, the language was almost dead," said Verlieann Malina-Wright, vice principal of Anuenue School. "Twenty years ago, this is what we wanted — to hear the language in the community. That's happening now."
Immersion programs are thriving, with a total of about 2,000 students at 19 Department of Education sites and five charter school sites statewide. But Malina-Wright said there is still a need for teachers fluent in the language. There's now a push to get 500 graduates in the next five years from the University of Hawaii-Manoa and UH-Hilo, where there are programs in Hawaiian immersion education.
"I'm trying to encourage parents to come back and go to school so that they can come be teachers," she said.
Iwalani Foster, a former teacher at Anuenue, said the success of immersion schools can be seen in graduates who have gone through the programs and then gone on to college. She said those graduates will someday be able to pass on the Hawaiian language to their children.
"Right here, this is the proof," she said, holding her baby son. "He's going to grow up with Hawaiian as a first language."
Immersion programs conduct the teaching of science, math and other subjects entirely in Hawaiian. They're also a place where educators hope students will have a greater sense of their cultural identity.
"I feel like I know who I am and where I came from," said 19-year-old Kahau Vegas, a 2007 graduate of Anuenue School.
Having attended the immersion school for her entire school career, Vegas says her "perspective" is Hawaiian.
Kau'i Sang, a resource teacher with the DOE's Hawaiian Immersion Program, reflected on the first students that she taught 10 years ago who are now freshmen at Anuenue.
"Seeing them come this far makes me proud to be their teacher and to see the fruits of my labor," she said.
Sang said the evidence of achieving the goal of immersion schools — to revive the Hawaiian language — can be seen in the more than 2,000 children who now speak it proficiently.
After being banned from schools for nearly 100 years, the Hawaiian language presence was revived in the 1980s by a group of educators from UH. In 1987, the first Hawaiian immersion programs began at Waiau Elementary School and Keaukaha Elementary School.
Yesterday's programs on Kaua'i, O'ahu, Maui, Moloka'i and the Big Island kicked off a yearlong celebration of the 20th anniversary of Hawaiian immersion education.
Reach Loren Moreno at firstname.lastname@example.org.