Kamehameha Schools Kapālama Kula Waena is first Hawaiʻi school to earn international honor

Oct. 18, 2023

Kamehameha Schools Kapālama Kula Waena recently became the first school in Hawaiʻi to be named a “School of Distinction,” by the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE), an international membership organization of middle school educators. AMLE encouraged other schools to model and learn from the E Ola! framework’s approach to building self-esteem and cultural pride.

“We are so pleased, but not surprised that our kula waena has received this prestigious distinction,” said Dr. Taran Chun, KS Kapālama’s poʻo kula. “The quality of the education, the commitment of our kumu, and the vision of our leaders all contribute to a learning experience that is rooted in Hawaiian Culture-Based Education and highly engaging. During these critical years of development, haumāna are encouraged to explore their identity and kuleana as ʻōiwi, reaffirming the path toward a stronger individual and a stronger lāhui.”

According to AMLE’s director for middle level programs, Katie Powell, one of their goals with the Schools of Distinction program is to highlight and celebrate how the middle school model can be effectively implemented across a wide variety of school settings.

“Kamehameha Schools’ unique mission to champion every Hawaiian learner dovetails nicely with AMLE’s mission to help middle school educators reach every student,” Powell said. “We see in Kamehameha that when a school strives to understand their students as human beings and crafts a school culture designed to meet those needs, students and staff thrive.”

KS Kapālama’s kula waena participated in the Successful Middle School Assessment based on AMLE’s The Successful Middle School: This We Believe. The position paper, now in its fifth edition, articulates the ideal middle school model which has been planned and organized to address the developmental and cultural needs of students generally in grades 5-8.

“The body of work over five years around Hawaiian Culture-Based Education and E Ola! resonates,” kula waena poʻo kumu, Kula Gaughen-Haili, said. “As the world keeps changing, HCBE and our focus on E Ola! grounds our program and helps students to deeply understand who they are as kānaka, who they stand upon in their kūpuna, and guides them on their life journey towards ʻōiwi leadership.”

Gaughen-Haili expressed his appreciation for the efforts of his kumu and staff at the middle school.

“None of this would be possible without the dedicated efforts of all faculty and staff,” he said. “Their commitment to reflective improvement, consistency of practice over time, and professionalism to respond to data has been the foundation of our collective success. In addition, the respect and trust in each other to have courageous improvement conversations in our professional learning communities  has been a critical area to our success.”

In the assessment, Powell articulated Kamehameha Schools’ unique mission, with culture at the cornerstone of all it does. She also expressed her excitement to see the results of the assessment reflect the school’s intentional efforts to know and honor their students’ heritage and identities while creating a community that unifies and supports all members.

“The overarching essence of Kamehameha Schools is to develop a sense of pride and knowledge in their Hawaiian culture,” she added. “The basic tenets of cultural pride can be duplicated on teams or in a school as a whole community, that is in fact, unique from other schools. Indeed, “The Successful Middle School: This We Believe”, promotes this concept as a cornerstone of best practice. We would encourage schools to learn about Kamehameha Schools as they strive to develop their own unique school and/or team cultures.”