Exploring Hawaiiana, developing sense of self

A partnership between Kamehameha Schools and the Hawai‘i Department of Education has brought Arting and Writing to Kapa’a Elementary School.

“The program gives children extra opportunities to work on their writing and to learn and appreciate the Hawaiian culture,” said Principal Dora Hong.

Hong said the collaboration between Kumu Leimomi Cummings and regular education teachers is valuable and serves as professional development for the teachers.

Cummings said she uses the visual arts within a cultural context to strengthen process writing.

The cultural context for the first semester was piko‘u (self-identity). The students are now moving into ku‘u one hanau (sense of place).

Cummings teaches mele (songs) and oli (chants) of Kaua‘i, as well as ‘olelo no‘eau (proverbs and sayings).

“Hawaiian values are embedded in everyday teaching,” she said.

As students explore their sense of self, they move through the writing and arting processes.

“Arting and writing are both important processes, and they go hand-in-hand,” Cummings said. “Even the vocabulary is similar.”

Hawaiian born and raised, artist and art educator Meleanna Meyer developed the arting/writing project. Meyer trained Cummings and others to become instructors.

Cummings spends 45 to 50 minutes with two classes in each of the first, second and third grades of the SMILE school. Kapa’a Elementary has a schools-within-a-school system. As she instructs the children, the regular education teacher observes, assists and actively participates.

Linda Eyestone is a regular education teacher who takes what Cummings demonstrates and reinforces the lessons across the different subject areas.

“It’s really fun,” Eyestone said.

Cummings started an art lesson by explaining to students that they first need to observe carefully. Eyestone said she carried the analogy over to observations in science.

Students were then told that they need to look at the general shape of things. The art lesson was to look at an object and draw what they saw without looking at their paper.

The analogy in writing was that students need to have a general outline to get ready for the composition.

Once they had the general shape of an art piece, they needed to add details, the same way a piece of writing needs details or examples to support the main idea.

Finally students needed to stand back and look at their drawings. In the same way, a piece of writing needed to be looked at and judged using a rubric or criteria to evaluate if it is a good piece of writing.

Students have published their self-portraits along with their autobiographies and other writings about self in order to share with their families and with each other.

Eyestone said she has also integrated music and math to create music-math. She has introduced fractions using tempo in music. After experiencing an orchestral performance, school band and classroom music, the students drew Venn diagrams to illustrate the instruments they observed. They used the primary colors for the outer circles. Where the circles intersected, they used the secondary colors.

“By incorporating arting and writing, abstract concepts become concrete,” Eyestone said.

The arting/writing project is on a three-year cycle. The focus this year is on in-school literacy instruction and parent education. Next year an after-school literacy program will be implemented. The after-school program will add inquiry science to arting and writing.

A program evaluation will be done in the third year.

Cummings said she has noticed a change in students’ attitudes toward writing.

“I enjoy seeing how kids love the time to write and to explore and make that connection between writing and arting,” Cummings said.

Her vision is that the program will go on as long as it is needed. With more staff being added next year, she said the program will definitely strengthen.

Hong said the partnership is a good one.

“Kamehameha Schools is looking to support Hawaiian children and Kapa‘a Elementary has a large Hawaiian population,” Hong said.

• Cynthia Matsuoka is a freelance writer for The Garden Island and former principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School. She can be reached by e-mail at aharju@kauaipubco.com

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