In the past 10 years, Halau Ku Mana has grown from a near-impossible idea to a state-recognized charter school with 78 students.
“It’s been a journey filled with ups and down, but what keeps us focused is the hope and aspiration of improving our education system for our charters,” said Mahinapoepoe Duarte, principal of the school. With its foundation in Hawaiian language, culture and values, the school educates students from grades 6 through 12 in the usual core subjects (math, science and such) as well as in both English and Hawaiian language arts on its Makiki Heights campus.
In celebration of its 10-year anniversary, Halau Ku Mana held a fundraising brunch at Bishop Museum earlier this month, featuring music by Na Hoku Hanohano Award-winning recording artist Kainani Kahaunaele and Natalie Ai Kamauu and a silent auction of student-made art and items donated by local businesses.
Despite temperamental weather, about 150 parents, faculty, representatives of business and educational organizations and guests turned out to support the school, its mission and most importantly, the students. Resting on the grass was Kanehunamoku, a double-hulled Polynesian canoe that students use as a “floating classroom” for math, science, history, language and culture.
The menu consisted of luau stew, limu salad and kalo hash, made from ingredients grown and harvested or gathered by students of the character school.
“Mahina and I go way back,” said chef-caterer Mark Noguchi of Heeia Kea Pier General Market & Deli near Kaneohe. “We were classmates at UH, and we remained good friends.”
Topped with simple scrambled eggs and white rice, the delicious brunch was served by the students. “This is one of their life experiences, so go easy on them!” joked Duarte from the stage prior to a school hula and music performance.
During the event, Keola Nakanishi and Noelani Goodyear-Kaopua were recognized for their efforts as co-founders of the school. Kaopua, who now teaches political science at UH-Manoa, was instrumental in drafting the initial documents and envisioning what the school could become. “At that point, we were just going day by day, and it’s amazing how it’s grown and come this far,” said Kaopua. “And now there’s a permanent site for the school for so many families.”
She recently spoke to 2011 graduates and was happy to hear that Halau Ku Mana had prepared them well for college. “Every single one of them said they were so grateful for the cultural grounding that the school provided,” she said.
Nakanishi, or “Uncle Keola,” as the students call him, looks forward to “the kids” taking their own places as teachers and administrators. “We grew up educated in our mainstream, typical way,” he said. “These students will have come out learners in this ʻold’ way of learning . . . They can take these concepts and apply (them) to a whole another level.”
As rain broke out, young hula dancers emerged onto Bishop Museum’s Great Lawn while others performed chants on stage.
From the pride showing on the faces of family members, the event was both a milestone in the school’s history and a promise for its future.