University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo emeritus professor and founding executive director of the Nā Pua Noʻeau Center for Gifted and Talented Native Hawaiian Children Dr. David Kekaulike Sing was presented the 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) on Oct. 15, 2021.
The honor was announced at the NIEA’s annual convention, which is being held in Omaha, Nebraska. The award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the education of American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians.
Sing is known for his groundbreaking, innovative educational models that addressed the specific needs of Native Hawaiian children increasing higher education retention and graduation, raising achievement and aspirations for K-12 students, and developing STEM and health career pathways.
“Developing successful native programs and organizing caucus groups to synergize collaboration and unifying efforts all started with assuming a child, every child, feels a sense of strength in who they are, where they come from and believing that anything and everything is possible,” Sing said.
His education model was applied in higher education through the Hawaiian Leadership Development Program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo in the 1980s and was the first support service program for Native Hawaiian students in higher education at the University of Hawaiʻi. It became a model replicated by other campuses to enhance the recruitment, retention, and graduation of Native Hawaiians.
Sing’s model was also applied to a program he designed for Native Hawaiian children in grades K-12 through a pedagogy that integrated native perspective, history, language, culture and values that raised the achievement and aspirations of Native Hawaiian children. The center, known by its Hawaiian name – Nā Pua Noʻeau – opened offices statewide administered through UH campuses. The program was successful in increasing the number of Native Hawaiians enrolled at the University of Hawaiʻi campuses.
“The Native Hawaiian community definitely owes a debt of gratitude to Dr. Sing for his pioneering efforts in the education of our keiki and we mahalo the NIEA for recognizing his achievements,” said Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board Chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey. “His research and experience in creating optimal learning conditions for Native Hawaiians have become models applied throughout our educational system. His lifetime of work has been such a blessing for our lāhui, and I can only hope that Dr. Sing realizes how much aloha, respect and appreciation that all of us in Hawaiʻi hold in our hearts for him.”
Sing was awarded the NIEA’s Educator of the Year Award in 2008. In 1991 and 2009, he received the Native Hawaiian Education Award recognizing him as the years’ outstanding educator for contributing to the achievement and educational enrichment of Native Hawaiian children.
Sing retired from UH-Hilo in 2014 after 40 years at the university but continues his work today through Educational Prism LLC, where he serves as managing partner.
“I am humbled and honored with this recognition,” Sing said. “My thanks to my Native Hawaiian ʻohana, I am thankful for our work together. The dedication to serve our Hawaiian children and families across the state of Hawaiʻi and building our lāhui, our Hawaiian nation, will thrive in leaders for today and tomorrow.”
Three other Native Hawaiians have been honored by the NIEA with Lifetime Achievement Awards, including Dr. Teresa Makuakane-Drechsel in 2012, Namaka Rawlins in 2015 and Dr. Makalapua Alencastre in 2019.
The NIEA did not present a William G. Demmert Cultural Freedom Award in 2021, but past Hawaiʻi winners include ʻAha Pūnana Leo in 2007, Ke Kula ʻo Samuel M. Kamakau in 2010, Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language in 2013, Hālau Kū Māna in 2014, ʻAha Kauleo Statewide Council in 2015, Ke Kula ʻo Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu in 2018 and Ka Papahana Kaiapuni in 2019.
The Kanaeokana Kula Hawaiʻi Network shared its gratitude and aloha as well. “Dr. Sing represents the innovative and pioneering spirit of our kūpuna through his work to better the educational and cultural outcomes of Kānaka Maoli youth. The foundations he has laid in the field of Hawaiian education are legend and have become a road map of excellence for so many of our Kanaeokana members. We “kūlou me ka haʻahaʻa” to honor his lifetime achievement and to recognize its everlasting impact on Hawaiian education and the lāhui.”
The Native Hawaiian Education Association sent its mahalo and hoʻomaikaʻi to the esteemed educator. “Dr. Sing’s selfless dedication to the education and success of Native Hawaiian students at every level is inspirational and legendary. Through his decades of commitment and innovation, generations of Native Hawaiian students have been able to have stronger self-worth and, ultimately, achieve their educational and career goals. Our families and communities are stronger and healthier because of his work and dedication.”
A confederation of Hawaiian language revitalization entities also sent heartfelt congratulations to Sing: “ʻO ke Kuʻikahi Hoʻōla ʻŌlelo, ʻo ia hoʻi, ʻo ka ʻAha Pūnana Leo, Ke Kula ʻO Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu, Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani me ʻImiloa kekahi e hoʻomaikaʻi nui ana iā David Kekaulike Sing e hoʻohanohano ʻia ana i kēia makahiki ma ka ʻaha NIEA. ʻAuhea ʻoe e ke hoa Hawaiʻi, mahalo nui loa iā ʻoe no kāu mau hana nui no nā pua a Hāloa o ko kākou one hānau aloha. Na ke Akua e hoʻopōmaikaʻi mai iā ʻoe i ke ola lōʻihi a kau i ka puaaneane i kū i kou kūlana alakaʻi.
“Our confederation of Hawaiian language revitalization entities, the ʻAha Pūnana Leo, Ke Kula ʻO Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu, Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani and ʻImiloa send our congratulations to Dr. David Kekaulike Sing who is being honored with the NIEA Lifetime Achievement Award. Dear friend and fellow Hawaiian, please accept our expression of gratitude for your tireless work on behalf of the Native children of our beloved homeland. May you be blessed with many more years as appropriate to your position as a leader of the people.”