Kumu appreciation week: Embracing creativity and E Ola! at Kamehameha Schools Maui

May. 8, 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 during Kumu Appreciation Week, we invest in the future of Hawaiʻi and propel Ke Ali‘i Pauahi’s vision fueled by their hard work and dedication.

Amid the challenges of distance learning during the coronavirus pandemic, one educator at Kamehameha Schools Maui stood out for her unique approach: eighth-grade English teacher Robin Prais.

Rather than succumbing to the limitations of remote learning, Prais embraced the challenge, donning costumes and taking on imaginary personas to engage her pupils online. With a pair of light-up sunglasses and boundless imagination, she would transform into Ann O. Tate, an eclectic poetry reader who delivered lectures in rhyme and infused joy into her classroom.

“It was definitely entertaining,” KS Maui senior Ryan Aipa said.  “She had to get creative to keep us students engaged.”

Prais’ dedication to innovative teaching is just one aspect of her esteemed career spanning over 20 years at KS Maui. Originally pursuing a fashion degree at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, she switched to the College of Education, driven by the desire for a more meaningful role in her community. Since joining the Maui campus, she has found her purpose in guiding and inspiring learners.

Over the years, Prais has been a part of many progressive and collaborative efforts that make KS campuses world-class. However, her standout endeavor is the eighth-grade E Ola! portfolio presentations, a hallmark project that showcases students’ growth before entering high school.

Throughout the year, haumāna build a digital portfolio of all their assignments that exemplify the E Ola! Learner Outcomes we strive to perpetuate throughout our organization. From kūlia to ‘ike kūpuna, students are charged with curating their best work into a visually creative and succinct website and presentation – a physical example of E Ola! in action.

“Anybody can say they mālama and have kuleana, but how do they apply the definition and characteristics of these values in their work and lives?” Prais said.

As haumāna, this project provides a valuable opportunity to reflect on their experiences and understand how individual assignments contribute to a well-rounded education.

“It takes a lot of courage to get up there and share,” Prais said. “It is the greatest reward to see them do it and show how they’ve grown.”

Prais is grateful for the supportive hui that believed in and worked hard to make these portfolio presentations a signature project for the grade. While she hopes that future staffers will continue it, she knows it can be hard to find the time and energy to experiment and try new approaches to teaching.

“I would tell younger kumu to stretch outside your comfort zone and take risks because you never know the kind of impact it will have on your students,” Prais encouraged.

Prais’ commitment to excellence has earned her the admiration of colleagues and administrators alike. Poʻo Kumu Lance Cagasan regards her as a pillar in their māhele luna ʻohana and someone he can always rely on to enliven other kumu.

“When we first started Hawaiian culture-based education, Robin really embraced it,” Cagasan said. “By spearheading this big project, she really embodies E Ola! and the ʻōiwi leadership that we teach.”

Looking ahead to her retirement, Prais leaves behind a legacy of enthusiasm and dedication to student growth.

“When you can understand that challenges and failures are just a part of learning, you may not realize it when you’re going through it, but you will become a stronger and better person for it,” Prais said.

As Kamehameha Schools Maui continues to nurture future generations, teachers like Prais inspire haumāna to kūlia and embody the rich tapestry of Hawaiian and Christian values that empower them to thrive.