Haumāna, kumu and administrators, including Kamehameha Schools CEO Jack Wong, gathered for an emotional Aloha Assembly on Thursday, August 17, the first day of class since the devastating wildfires.
Kamehameha Schools Maui and ʻAʻapueo and Paukūkalo preschools welcomed haumāna back on August 17, more than a week after destructive wildfires sparked on Maui. School leaders carefully planned the return to ensure that employees, students and ʻohana receive the vital support needed for healing and the long road ahead.
Some KS Maui students and staff lost their homes, while others have taken in displaced families. Senior Keakealani Cashman packed her precious scriptures and some clothes when her family evacuated from their house in Lahaina. They are now staying with relatives after flames destroyed their home.
“I’ve only ever lived in Lahaina. The wildfires destroyed my one hānau. It hits hard,” she said. “I really wanted to come back, not only because of the circumstances. I love school and I love being here with my classmates and being with my teachers. It just makes me feel safe and it’s home to me.”
Three therapy dogs visited the campus, providing comfort and bringing smiles to the faces of students and employees. KS Maui also set up designated safe spaces where haumāna can receive additional help from the Behavioral Health Services team.
“We wanted to create a safe and nurturing learning environment for them to come back to, to touch base with their friends, to touch base with their kumu, really providing that wraparound of supports with the counselors, deans, and behavioral health specialists,” said Dr. Scott Parker, poʻo kula of KS Maui. “It’s creating an opportunity for us to check in, get a sense of where they might be, what their needs are, and how we can help.”
During a campus-wide Aloha Assembly, KS Maui Kahu Kanani Franco KSK’91 shared Psalm 46:1, reassuring students that they can always turn to Ke Akua if they feel anxious.
ʻO ke Akua ka puʻuhonua a me ka ikaika o kākou, He kōkua kokoke loa i ka pōpilikia ʻana. (Halelū 46:1)
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
“Ke Akua is our puʻuhonua when we find ourselves in this time of confusion, turmoil and sadness,” explained Kahu Franco. “He can be that place we run to as a refuge.”
As part of a phased school reopening, KS Maui also focused on the needs of kumu and staff who headed back to campus earlier in the week. They received support and training to help process the impacts of the wildfires to make sure they were equipped to assist returning students.
“What I appreciated about how we returned and the processes that were set in place by our leadership is that it gave everybody the opportunity to say what they had on their heart or in their mind but also the opportunity to say nothing, which is sometimes just as important, and just to listen to each other,” said KS Maui kumu Henohea Kāne. “The load kind of lightened a little bit to hear that it’s not an isolated feeling – that we all share the same aloha and the same hurt but that together, we can get through this.”
KS Preschools employees at ʻAʻapueo and Paukūkalo also had time to share their stories with each other and go through training with behavioral health experts before the staggered return of keiki on August 17 and 18.
“Our approach was to take care of our staff first so that they could be ready for keiki and their ʻohana. We’ll make sure to have supports and resources in place for all of them going forward, knowing that things are going to change for students, families and staff as time goes on and the crisis evolves,” said Shelli Kim KSK’90, poʻo kula of KS Preschools.
The two preschool sites also created areas for parents to connect with the behavioral health team, counselors and leaders during the morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up times. The goal was to build pilina and explain what resources are available, which may help to ease any separation anxiety for families.
“We are here to support our families during this difficult time. They need to know that their keiki are safe at school. We are all one Kamehameha Schools ʻohana,” said Waiʻaleʻale Sarsona, vice president of Hiʻialo at Kamehameha Schools.
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