Two-year-old Kalei‘ohu Cabebe cozied up to his mother, Nahele, and the wooden papa ku‘i ‘ai in front of them as they sat beneath a tent getting ready for the Ma Ka Hāna Ka ‘Ike Kuʻi Program to begin on the campus of Hāna High and Elementary School.
The precocious tot then wrapped his tiny fingers around a miniature-sized, bell-shaped pōhaku as he prepared to mash cooked kalo into poi. “Ku‘i,” his mother instructed him. The little boy then raised his pōhaku and began to pummel. Thump! Thump! Thump!
At the same time Kalei‘ohu Cabebe is pounding poi, representatives of several Hāna organizations are meeting in a nearby classroom to work on actions to assure that all interested Hāna families with infants, toddlers and pre-kindergartners like him have a place for their keiki to learn.
Hāna early learning providers have gathered twice this year to map out strategies to benefit the educational needs of Hāna keiki from ages six months to four-and-a-half years old. This first-time collaboration is seizing on opportunities while working to overcome challenges.
“We want keiki to have access to early childhood education via multiple pathways,” said Rick Paul, principal of Hāna High and Elementary School. “We have one thing that probably other communities don’t have – we have the ability to capture every student in the community.”
Located on the eastern end of Maui, Hāna is sometimes referred to as the “4th island” of Maui County because of its remote location. While the isolation could be viewed as a geographic challenge, it’s turned the residents of Hāna into a close-knit and resilient community.
According to the KS Maui, Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i Regional Action Plan, Hāna is among the locations in Maui County with the highest concentrations of Native Hawaiians with an 80 percent Native Hawaiian learner population rate in the Hāna school complexes.
This early learning collaboration came about out of concerns that some keiki in the community might fall through the cracks for a number of reasons including changing laws, tuition costs, a teacher shortage and lack of facilities. While some providers had empty seats, others had waiting lists.
“With early childhood education a priority for Kamehameha Schools, Hāna could serve as a model for what other rural communities could do across the pae ‘āina to assure that all keiki are ready for kindergarten,” KS Maui, Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i Regional Director Venus Rosete-Medeiros said. “It takes a village to raise a child and with early learning, these community leaders have joined forces for the good of their community and keiki. For them, it’s a kākou thing.”
Facilitated by Keala Kaopuiki Santos, project manager with the KS Maui, Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i Region, who moved to Hāna earlier this year, organizations at the table include:
Among the issues they continue to discuss include the role that the Pauahi Keiki Scholars scholarships could play in addressing tuition costs, working to overcome challenges in Hawaiian language immersion teacher certification, facilities shortages and transportation difficulties.
For example, Hale Hi‘ipoi, the program that Kalei‘ohu Cabebe attends, has a waiting list of 17 infants and toddlers due to a lack of facilities. Hale Hi‘ipoi is the only licensed infant and toddler center in Hāna. During the meeting, Principal Paul suggested that his school has the land and could utilize the help of the campus Ma Ka Hāna Ka ‘Ike construction vocational training program to expand the center’s facilities. Another suggestion was to see whether an additional program could be started such as Pūnana Leo’s Hiʻi Pēpē Infant program.
In another situation, Hāna school purchased two buses with safety restraints for preschoolers and created its own bus system to address the school transportation needs of the area. The Kamehameha Preschool in Hāna has had difficulty getting bus transportation for huaka‘i and discussions are underway to explore whether Hāna school might be able to fill that void.
“Coming together to share innovative, new and creative ideas to solve problems while using the experience, skills and knowledge from within Hāna to deepen and strengthen early childhood education opportunities is a welcomed approach,” said KS Preschools’ Pahukoa, who once taught at Hana school.
Selecting a name for the group is also on the agenda. Kaimana Cabebe suggested “Nā Maka Kilo O Hāna,” based on the Hāna mo‘olelo that talks about the kuleana of the Maka Kilo Iʻa, the fish spotter who works with others to get akule to feed the community.
“As a hui, we are charged with being attuned to the needs of the early childhood community in Hāna and will work collaboratively to address those needs,” Cabebe said.