Centering Wellbeing for Native Hawaiian Education

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Community is the authority in determining its educational priorities and funding for those priorities.

At the heart of the Native Hawaiian Education Council (NHEC) lives an annual commitment to engage community across the pae ʻāina in diverse and meaningful dialogue. We do this to listen, learn, and lean in on achievements and barriers in education that form powerful recommendations on education to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) for priority funding and support.

This year, ED will solicit applications for the Native Hawaiian Education Program (NHEP) grant competition and these priority recommendations are important in shaping decisions about what types of programs ED should prioritize, fund, and support for success.

NHEC is focusing this month’s column on our third of three priority recommendations to ED on mental health and wellbeing. The follow excerpt is taken from our annual report. To view the full report or learn more about our annual community consultation events coming up, please visit our website at: www.nhec.org/

PRIORITY FUNDING RECOMMENDATION: Address mental health and social emotional well-being as essential for Native Hawaiian learner outcomes, increased academic performance, behavior, social integration, resiliency, identity, and self-efficacy.

Mental health and wellbeing are paramount for student academic achievement and life. The COVID-19 impacts of social and physical isolation, loss of routines, increased anxiety or pessimism of an unsure future impacted youth. At the onset of the pandemic in 2020, the Center for Disease Control reported a 24% increase in children’s mental health related emergency room visits for youth ages 5-11, with a 31% increase for adolescents ages 12-17 (Leeb, et al., 2020).

The Council’s engagement with the community through the 2022 consultations reaffirms that mental health issues among students are an important public health concern as everyone continues to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) competencies in relation to student wellbeing continue to be reinforced as a priority by the community. “Staff who are well-trained, experienced, and know how to deal with traumatized kids are essential,” states a participant from a Molokaʻi community consultation. In NHEC’s 2017-2018 annual report, SEL recommendations were also provided to ED to consider for adoption as a new Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) measure: “Hawaiian values and practices have served as guiding principles for Kānaka Maoli for innumerable generations. Findings from this project show that the wisdom of Hawaiian culture is expressed in values and practices that more recently have been identified as SEL competencies. This congruence between Hawaiian value systems and SEL principles reveals the possibility of identifying specific measures of student success that resonate with the Native Hawaiian community that simultaneously reflect the rigorous standard of GPRA.”

Priority and funding for programming that addresses increased mental health professionals in schools and communities including trauma-informed care training for all persons in contact with learners in the next NHEP grant competition is imperative to the mental health and wellbeing of Native Hawaiian learners.