Preparing for School in a Pandemic


Two Immersion Schools Build Technology Solutions on Cultural Foundations

The day after the Hawaiian flag was lowered, signifying the annexation of Hawaiʻi, an editorial was featured in the Hawaiian language newspaper Ke Aloha Aina. The Aug. 13, 1898 article, by publishers Iosepa and ʻĀʻima Nāwahī, was titled “He ʻOia Mau Nō Kākou,” or “We Continue as Before.”

That spirit of resoluteness is evident today at Ke Kula ʻO Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu Iki Laboratory Public Charter School.

“That statement is our guiding principle in dealing with the COVID-19 challenges we face,” said Nāwahī Poʻo Kumu Kauanoe Kamanā. “Our school is named after Iosepa and ʻĀʻima Nāwahī, who persevered against tremendous odds to maintain Hawaiʻi’s distinctiveness during their time. The challenges they faced were even more profound than what we are facing now with COVID-19.

“The idea is that no matter what, you know that you are doing the right thing and you sleep well at night and persevere on the path that you are on. When you have a positive principle like that from our kūpuna, and it’s entirely relevant to what we are doing today, that is very uplifting.”

A Hawaiian language medium school, Nāwahī has a total of 620 K-12 students at its main campus in Keaʻau and at satellite schools in Waimea and Waiʻanae. They have graduated 214 students since celebrating their first graduating class in 1999.

Photo: Papa Mālaaʻo Virtual Classroom
Papa Mālaaʻo (kindergarten) students from Kamakau in a virtual classroom.

Like all schools in Hawaiʻi, they were forced to end in-person instruction after an extended spring break in March and move to a distance learning model to complete the school year.

“Everything was face-to-face prior to this. We did have some general things online for selective teachers, but nothing comprehensive or school-wide,” Kamanā said. “Fortunately, before we even left for spring break, we already had a sense change was coming. We foresaw that we were going to have to do distance learning and so we selected program software and apps to use school-wide. We also told students that we were going to rely on them to have to move with the flow and carry their kuleana to make this work.”

Photo: Free Weekend Meal Distribution
Free Weekend Meal Distribution for Kamakau students at Hale Kealoha.

Kamanā and her staff are now busy preparing for the start of the new school year in early August.

“We’re bringing back face-to-face instruction for students in grades K-3, for better instruction and to also support the families by having those students in school. We’ll have a blend of face-to-face and distance learning instruction for grades 4-12,” Kamanā said.

“Making this happen requires us to be creative in using spaces and resources in ways that we were not doing before. It’s a combination of remeasuring the spaces we have and adding spaces we don’t normally use for classrooms.”

Photo: Kamakau Student Government Leaders
Kamakau’s Student Government haumāna send an Instagram message to their
school community. – Photo: Courtesy

Kamanā said the school has worked to establish safety protocols for arrival, discussed use of face masks, assigned students to learning bubbles, and will enforce social distancing and hygiene practices, including more extensive cleaning and disinfecting.

“This is to protect our faculty, staff and students – everybody has to feel safe,” she said.

Meahilahila Kelling is the director at Ke Kula ʻo Samuel M. Kamakau Laboratory Public Charter School located in Kāneʻohe. The school currently has 160 students in preschool through grade 12. Instruction is in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi until 5th grade, when English is introduced as a formal subject.

Kelling said they have planned a staggered start date for the return of their students beginning on August 3.

“We are planning to implement a blended model where half of the student body will be on campus at one time. The blended model will allow for increased opportunities for small instructional groups and a focus on projects,” she said.

Kelling said the importance of ʻohana was critical when the school was forced into a distance learning model last spring.

“As a Hawaiian medium school, the Hawaiian language is the foundation of our program. Maintaining daily access to spoken Hawaiian is a challenge unless it is already a language spoken in the home and by the family,” she said.

“Our teachers were creative in their methods to deliver instruction in the last quarter of last school year, and many relied on the strength of our ʻohana to offer the needed support at home. In distance learning, families become an integral part of their child’s learning.

“As a kula mauli ola, we also strive to meet the naʻau needs of our students and families. As a result of this pandemic, we are experiencing a heightened need for us to address each student’s social and emotional needs to impact their total well-being.”

Kelling said continuing to cultivate their mauli ola during this trying time is essential.

“Kamakau teachers are participating in weekly Hawaiian language classes this summer in an effort to strengthen our Hawaiian language in preparation for the return of our students. Weekly staff meetings have also helped to keep our staff informed of the constantly changing updates to health and safety procedures and protocols and our school’s reopening plan,” she said.

“Throughout the summer, Hawaiian language classes for our ʻohana and the community, and enrichment programs for Kamakau students, were offered using Zoom and Google Meets. Staff are preparing to address the social-emotional needs of our students when school begins, and we will continue to work with our community partners to share their expertise with our students.”

Both Kamakau and Nāwahī have surveyed their parents during the pandemic and remained in constant communication with them to face the challenges and uncertainty ahead.

COVID-19 cases in the U.S. have tripled from approximately 18,000 a day when schools shut down in March, to roughly 60,000 a day in July. And no one knows what the future holds.

“We just always have to be ready to ʻoni, or take action, and move things forward. Because we already had that value in us as a school, we can support and connect with each other and make changes quickly and efficiently. Everybody wants to make sure that things work,” Kamanā said.

“The Nāwahī school – teachers, students and families – are one collective. We had already built trust. When things like this happen, it tests those capabilities. If you don’t have that trust, you’re going to be jammed up.”

Kamanā said the lessons of our ancestors remain as relevant as ever.

“This kind of thinking comes from long ago, it is ours and it is timeless. What we have is from our ancestors – to be with each other as a family. It’s real. It applies in this situation. If you have not established that ʻohana prior to this, then it’s going to be much more difficult.