The Coral Heads of Native Hawaiian Education


“He pūkoʻa kani ʻāina; A coral reef that grows into an island.”
A person beginning in a small way gains steadily until they become firmly established.
– ʻŌlelo Noʻeau

This ʻōlelo noʻeau reflects the travels of our ancestors across the Pacific that would pass many coralheads which the navigators would then mark in their memories to pass on to their apprentices. Steadily through time, as these small coralheads grew into full islands, so comes the advice that great success doesn’t happen over night. Rather often it starts small and over time, like a coralhead, grows into excellence.

In Native Hawaiian education, how it started and how it’s going is a testament to the people and the programs that fought for change. Programs such as ʻAha Pūnana Leo, Pīhana Nā Mamo, Nā Pua Noʻeau and others came into existence to address the unique educational needs of Native Hawaiians. These programs were the budding coral heads of our ʻōlelo noʻeau that have now become the pillars and cornerstones for our Native Hawaiian families and communities.

But just as our coral heads need optimal conditions for growth so, too, do our community-based programs require a steady flow of funding, resources, and support to succeed. One such funding pathway comes from the Native Hawaiian Education Program funded by the federal Native Hawaiian Education Act.

When the Act was first established in 1988 under the Hawkins-Stafford Office of Elementary and Secondary Act, there were six programs initially funded:

  1. Kamehameha Schools’ Family-based Education;
  2. ʻAha Pūnana Leo;
  3. Kamehameha Schools’ Native Hawaiian Model Curriculum Implementation Program;
  4. Pīhana Nā Mamo;
  5. Native Hawaiian Higher Education Program; and
  6. Nā Pua Noʻeau

The KS Family-based centers and ʻAha Pūnana Leo headed the pre-K educational programs such as parent-infant education, center-based preschools, and Hawaiian language. The Model Curriculum Program supported the Kamehameha Schools elementary language arts programs with the Hawaiʻi State Department of Education. For special education for Native Hawaiians in our public school system, Pīhana Nā Mamo led program efforts to address these needs, while Nā Pua Noʻeau led programs for gifted and talented Native Hawaiian students. To round out this six-program portfolio, the Native Hawaiian Higher Education Program provided scholarships and counseling for Native Hawaiian students pursuing postsecondary pathways.

Today, the Native Hawaiian Education Program has funded hundreds of programs in our communities, including 67 current programs awarded in the 2020 and 2021 grant competition. As a community, we celebrate increased programs that serve our keiki, our ʻohana, and our kaiāulu. I encourage you to seek out the Native Hawaiian Education Programs funded in your area to participate and learn more about these programs.

For more information on the Native Hawaiian Education Program, please visit the U.S. Department of Education website at or view the list of programs by year with the links below: