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Immersion students get shuttle funding

On the scale of the state’s multimillion-dollar budget, $40,000 is a pittance.

But to Nolan Rapozo and the family of a child in Waimea Valley who commutes to the Kapa‘a Elementary School Hawaiian-immersion program, it’s huge.

The money in the state budget will be matched by state Office of Hawaiian Affairs funds for a bus, or bus service, that will allow students outside of Kapa‘a to get to Kapa‘a Elementary, Middle and High schools, where the public-school immersion programs teach children the host language.

“The bus is the beginning,” said Rapozo, a Lihu‘e resident whose two children will catch the bus for the 2006-07 school year if the funds are released in time.

“We have to get the kids to the school.”

Students from Ha‘ena to portions of Wailua whose home district isn’t Kapa‘a Elementary, for example, catch the Kapa‘a-bound school bus on a space-available basis.

But there is nothing for those from Kekaha to Hanama‘ulu.

‘This is a start for us, a new beginning,” and the end of a 10-year battle to get funding for transportation for out-of-district students, Rapozo said.

There are around 90 students in the Hawaiian-immersion programs at the three schools.

He’d like to see the bus scheduled so that students can be picked up at their home public schools and transported to Kapa‘a, and is also hopeful that those immersion students who catch the bus back to their home schools after school will be able to enroll in the after-school programs at their home schools.

“We’re really excited,” and scrambling to work to see if the funds can be released in time for the bus system to be in place by the time the 2006-07 school year begins in late July, said Rapozo, a retired Kaua‘i Police Department and state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officer.

The state budget is effective July 1.

The transportation system is the first step in what might be many future moves for the public-school immersion program, where students are taught primarily in the Hawaiian language.

“We’re a legitimate school. The kids love their language,” said Rapozo, president of the parent-support group of Ke Kula Kaiapuni o Kapa‘a.

Rapozo said they are working on a plan to bring the Kapa‘a Middle School immersion students down to Kapa‘a Elementary School, as a teacher shortage has been hampering the program at the middle-school level.

Further, there is movement afoot to totally relocate the public school immersion program to a new site near Kaua‘i Community College and the ‘Aha Punana Leo Hawaiian-immersion preschool.

“Transportation is the issue,” said state Sen. Gary Hooser, D-Kaua‘i-Ni‘ihau.

Those in the ‘Aha Punana Leo Hawaiian-immersion preschool in Puhi who want to continue in Hawaiian-immersion programs in public school don’t always have ways to get to the Kapa‘a campus if they live outside that district, Hooser said.

State Rep. Bertha Kawakami, D-West Kaua‘i-Ni‘ihau, vice chair of the House Finance Committee, was instrumental in getting the funding placed in the state budget bill, Hooser said.

For years, lack of bus transportation has been a deterrent for most out-of-district families wanting to enroll their keiki in the Kapa‘a-based Hawaiian-immersion program, said Alohilani Rogers, one of the teachers.

For over a decade, several ‘Aha Punana Leo Hawaiian immersion preschool graduates (ages 3 to 5) who become fluent in the Hawaiian language at the preschool level did not continue to enroll in the Ke Kula Kaiapuni o Kapa‘a Hawaiian-immersion program due to lack of transportation, she said.

With the success of passing of this appropriation, enrollment is expected to increase significantly, and the strength and support needed to survive will continue for the future of the Hawaiian language and culture, Rogers said.

Opened in the fall of 1989, the state Department of Education’s Ke Kula Kaiapuni Hawaiian-immersion program is located at the three Kapa‘a public schools.

Kula Kaiapuni’s Hawaiian-immersion program treats the indigenous language as primary and dominant in the school setting, Rogers explained.

English is introduced as part of the curriculum beginning in grade five, to ensure bilingual ability at the high-school level, said Rogers.

Rapozo said his younger children are already bilingual in English and Hawaiian.

The Hawaiian-immersion program at Ke Kula Kaiapuni strives to provide a quality education based on knowledge of the Hawaiian language and culture as the foundation upon which individuals become responsible, sensitive and productive adults who contribute significantly to all levels of Hawai‘i’s community, Rogers said.

All families on the island are eligible to attend Ke Kula Kaiapuni o Kapa‘a.

For enrollment and other information about Ke Kula Kaiapuni o Kapa‘a, contact Rogers, 635-4839.

• Paul C. Curtis, associate editor, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or pcurtis@kauaipubco.com.

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