Hawaiian Cultural Charter Schools: Educating and Preserving Heritage

I wondered why 12 of Hawaii’s 33 charter public schools were located on The Big Island. The answer became clear as I visited my last two charter schools. For many Hawaiians, chartering is an opportunity to preserve the Hawaiian culture. Parents, teachers, and communities are creating Hawaiian-focused and Hawaiian-immersion charter public schools to honor and integrate their cultural heritage and language with their children’s education.

The building murals (below) at Kua o Ka La New Century Public Charter School in Pahoa, led by long-time chartering pioneer Susie Osborne, celebrate the beauty and heritage of the Hawaiian Islands. Kua O Ka La is located at Pu’ ala’ a, Puna, next to Ahalanui warm pond. Pu’ ala’ a Puna is an intact ancient Hawaiian village complete with historical sites, fishponds, and native habitat that affords an ideal outdoor learning environment for the school’s project-based learning environment.

The charter school demonstrates food sustainability by growing its food, and teaching students to prepare it (below).  This is important when 85% of all food consumed in Hawaii comes from overseas on barges! This environmental award-winning school has won national and local awards for diverse and innovative programs. As noted by Michael McBride’s 2013 blogpost on National Geographic’s website, the school preserves old sustainable ways in a cultural setting, while students acquire skill sets necessary to succeed in today’s technological world.

What kind of technology? Despite being off the grid, the school has one of only two solar-dependent computer labs in the nation, which supports 45 student work stations. An award-winning recycling system features commercial grade composting waterless toilets. You can read more here.

Finally, my visit to Ke Ana La’ahana Public Charter School, led by Kamaka Gunderson, was the perfect end to my Hawaii travels. This Hawaiian-focused public charter school is located in the community it serves. Along with their academic mission to engage students in critical thinking and complete mastery, the school’s mission is also “To recognize, nurture, and foster cultural identity and cultural awareness in an environment that has historical connections and lineal linkage to students.” Their curriculum integrates Hawaiian culture and Keaukaha history, tradition, and resources.

I was moved by the gathering of students and staff I observed at the start of the day in an open field on the school campus. Together they reflected on their heritage and their native language in song and recitation.

My travel now comes full circle.  For many families in the Pacific islands of Guam and Hawaii, chartering not only provides quality education for their children, but a chance to capture an indigenous heritage that completes their very being.