OHA recognized speech contest participants at Ke Kula Kaiapuni o Ānuenue. Photo - Kawena Carvalho-Mattos

For the first time in its 30-year history, the Texaco/Honolulu District Elementary Speech Festival included student speeches done in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, continuing a trend of Hawaiian language immersion students receiving the same opportunities to participate in educational platforms as their English-speaking counterparts.

In late April, seven fifth graders from Ke Kula Kaiapuni o ānuenue joined approximately 450 other district students at Kaimukī High School to participate in the non-competitive speech event. The ānuenue students entered the speech festival’s storytelling category and presented Hawaiian language speeches on the Pele and Hi‘iaka mo‘olelo.

“The goal of the festival is to encourage students to develop their language arts and speaking skills,” said Carina Tagupa, Communications and Community Engagement Manager for Island Energy, the parent company of Texaco. “Being confident in speaking, regardless of whether it’s in English or Hawaiian, can have far-reaching, positive impacts on a child’s success in life.”

The addition of ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i to the speech festival follows efforts to include Hawaiian language projects in science fairs across the state. At least one Hawaiian language science project has advanced to the Hawai‘i State Science and Engineering Fair since 2015.

ānuenue School has been at the forefront of pushing the boundaries of ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, with its students competing in science fairs for years and now entering the speech festival.

“What we are doing is the natural progression of the Hawaiian language revitalization movement,” said Babā Yim, the po‘okumu of ānuenue. “Thirty years ago, immersion schools were established to help save what many considered to be a dying language. Now our goal is to make sure the language thrives and that Hawaiian language speakers have the same opportunities as everyone else.”

OHA has been supportive of these ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i advancements. For the last two years, OHA has provided awards to recognize the Hawaiian language immersion students who have qualified for the state science fair. For the speech festival, OHA provided three Hawaiian language judges, helping to address one of the main obstacles for the inclusion of Hawaiian language in new forums. In addition, OHA participated in a ceremony at ānuenue School following the speech festival to celebrate the achievements of these students.