Kumu Appreciation Week: Celebrating KS Preschools kumu

May. 6, 2024

Kamehameha Schools recognizes that world-class campuses start with exceptional kumu. As the kahua (foundation) of our learning community, their contributions and accomplishments are recognized year-round. By celebrating our teachers, we invest in the future of Hawaiʻi and propel Ke Aliʻi Pauahi’s vision fueled by their hard work and dedication.

For Kumu Appreciation Week, we’re celebrating remarkable KS teachers across the pae ʻāina, starting with a showcase of those educating our youngest learners at KS Preschools sites.

KS Preschools - Waiānuenue, Hilo, Hawaiʻi Island

Kumu spotlight (from left to right): Christine Yamamoto, teacher, Kris Aina and Namatia Stinnett, teacher’s assistants for Papa Ma Uka.

Kumu spotlight (from left to right): Chanlyn Waihilo Chartrand, teacher, Lāʻieikawai Smith and Mimi Truesdell, teacher’s assistants for Papa Ma Kai.

These kumu nurture 40 kamaliʻi between two classrooms, ma uka and ma kai. They excel at ka lauhoe, working as a team. Darissa Kekuawela, their hope poʻo kumu says the team has created a great bridge from home to school by fostering the importance of ʻohana engagement. And when it comes to Hawaiian culture-based education, these kumu are masterful teachers because they live and breathe it.

“Just the learning experiences they are bringing for keiki is out-of-this-world amazing. I mean, talking about E Ola! and really living the values that we talk about. You know, one kumu has an idea, the rest of them just take it and run with it. The system that they've built for each other is just amazing. They're one big ‘ohana. We're two separate classrooms, teaching two separate sets of keiki, but when it comes down to it, I can walk through that site and they're literally reading the same books. The vocabulary that I hear is all about the uka, or all about the kai,” Kekuawela said.

KS Preschools - Nānākuli, Oʻahu

Kumu spotlight: Dez Wright, teacher’s assistant (left), Kēhau “Hau” Kaalouahi KSK’97, teacher (right).

These two kumu are celebrated for their ʻohana engagement through culture and ʻāina. Kumu Hau Kaalouahi is a KS Kapālama alum with deep ties to the place she serves. “She's from Nānākuli, born and raised and just the aloha that she gives to her community, how she finds opportunities because of her deep connections. She's always mākaukau,” said Kaila Lui-Kwan, KS Preschool hope poʻo kumu.

And of teacher's assistant Dez Wright, Lui-Kwan offers this manaʻo: “Dezra, she's just a great, great support system. Without her, Hau cannot shine. She's the one that's in the back making sure everything's in place.”

When it comes to a world-class learning environment, these kumu excel inside and outside the classroom. “As soon as you walk in the room, it’s E Ola! When you hear them talking, it's E Ola! The integration of the Hawaiian culture is the foundation of everything that they do,” Lui-Kwan said.

The kamaliʻi also benefit from an outdoor māla and playground that provides an incredible learning environment. “We're on the beach and we have a huge, huge playground. It was a blank canvas. Kēhau was one of the teachers who helped me plant our native plants and design the playground. It turned out so well, that Kēhau often says she has all the academics she needs outdoors, math, science, language, it’s all there,” Lui-Kwan said.

KS Preschools - Kaumakani, Kauaʻi

Kumu spotlight (from left to right): Keiko Francisco, teacher’s assistant, Erika Sakamoto, teacher and Toni Gonsalves, teacher’s assistant.

Keiki at this age learn a great deal by doing and these kumu are passionate about creating fun, hands-on learning experiences rooted in culture. They recently worked with their kamaliʻi to create a large paper-mâché depiction of an ahupuaʻa in pre-contact times, ma uka to ma kai. It included the ridges on the mauna, a waterfall and a village below. The keiki gained a great sense of place through touch and sight.

The team behind this, Erika Sakamoto, Toni Gonsalves and Keiko Francisco, have been working together for nearly three years but all are seasoned pre-K educators. Anna Peters, their hope poʻo kumu, says they have great pilina and are quite adept at taking on new challenges.

"They are passionate in their approach to keiki’s learning. They are open and willing to take risks and try something different. They really think out of the box and have a commitment to try and be the best at what they do, which is what makes this team unique."

These kumu also have a great approach when it comes to nurturing keiki. “They understand their individual needs, whatever that may be. Some keiki still may be clingy and they know how to approach and support each one of them. They have great pilina with their keiki and with ʻohana who know this is a safe, nurturing place for them to be,” Peters said.

KS Preschools – Kahuku, Oʻahu

Kumu spotlight (from left to right): Raquel Widner, teacher’s assistant, Karen Kamakaʻala, teacher and Auliʻi Dean, teacher’s assistant.

This teaching team has helped their keiki and ʻohana strengthen E Ola! and Hawaiian culture-based education in several ways, including a yearlong loʻi learning project. The keiki went on a huakaʻi to the Redding ʻohana farm where there’s dryland loʻi. They planted kalo and learned all the parts of the plant. They also gained an understanding of kalo’s connection to Hāloa and aloha ʻāina. Throughout the spring, they’ve been getting virtual growth updates on the kalo through the Seesaw app. The project will culminate in late May when the keiki return to the farm and huki the kalo as part of their Hoʻomau Nā Keiki year-end celebration.

LaniRae Pedro, the hope poʻo kumu who oversees the preschool, says these kumu each have unique strengths. When it comes to kumu Kamakaʻala, Pedro shared this manaʻo: “It's one thing to understand what it means to be a lifelong learner, and then it's another thing to actually embrace it and then lead by example. She is a person of integrity, which means when no one is watching, you're still going to do what's pono. Which in turn is fostered in the classroom with keiki.”

Teacher’s assistant Auliʻi Dean is the newest member of the team and Pedro says she’s fit right in. “What we appreciate is just her willingness to learn and be open and meet keiki and kumu where they're at and support.”

Raquel Widner excels at teaching keiki in the school’s māla. “She has a love and aloha for the māla that we have here, which is a huge learning center where the keiki spend an hour every day. There's a mud kitchen. Different native Hawaiian plants are there. There's intention and meaning but that requires a lot of kuleana on kumu's part to mālama the space in order for keiki to engage,” Pedro said.

Together, the three kumu deliver a world-class experience to the kamaliʻi they serve.  “They love their jobs, like they LOVE it. And you can see that through their interactions with keiki, and we're so blessed to have them.”

These kumu highlighted here are just a sampling of the excellent work happening at the 30 KS Preschool sites throughout the pae ʻāina. During this Kumu Appreciation Week, we salute all who work tirelessly to grow our future ʻōiwi leaders.