Kanuikapono offers new paradigm in education

ANAHOLA — Kanuikapono, the charter school in Anahola that opened its doors six years ago under the direction of Ipo Toreo Kauhane and Kamahalo Kauhane, is growing steadily despite many challenges.

“Each year we get a little bigger, we have some things that we didn’t the year before,” said Ipo, the school’s director. “We struggle a lot as a small school, but the kids are always happy.”

Kanuikapono began as a community-centered education program in 1997 and became a charter school in 2001. Its mission is to cultivate the 21st century ahupua‘a.

The nontraditional curriculum is hands-on and is structured around community projects, Hawaiian culture and the values of aloha, ‘ohana and malama ka ‘aina.

Incorporating traditional Hawaiian chants teaches the language. With the Anahola peaks to their backs and the ocean in clear view, students, teachers and parents gather each day to chant to the four directions: the east for inspiration, the south for focus, the west for gratitude and the north for wisdom.

“Education with aloha requires everyone to give a lot more than we are used to in traditional schools,” Ipo said, adding that parents are encouraged to become and stay involved, while the teachers are encouraged to collaborate.

Ipo, born and raised in Anahola, has witnessed many of her peers struggle with traditional education. He said Kanuikapono is a new paradigm in education: The educators involved have taken projects and field trips and made it the model.

Their goal is to keep learning fun and relevant, he said. By structuring the curriculum around what interests the children, the learning process becomes dynamic.

The value of ‘ohana is cultivated within the students through intentional mentoring programs. Older students help to mentor the younger ones.

“Kids would rather learn from other kids,” Ipo said. “At the same time, the older children are learning from the younger ones things they have forgotten, to be excited and appreciative.”

Each year completed projects and research become a part of the curriculum for the following year, such as a poem that a child writes one year may become a chant the next and a dance the year after.

Databases allow students to access information that was gathered by their predecessors and then build upon it.

The value of malama ka aina, to care for the land leaving it better for the next generation, is woven throughout the whole curriculum. Kamahalo, who oversees many of the projects at Kanuikapono, shared about some of the projects going on.

“When we first started the school we did not have a location so we used our own property. We learned a lot from the Waipa organization because they have an intact ahupua’a.”

From the propagation of native plants to reforestation projects these children are working to shape the land that will support them and their children. There are projects studying stream life and the repopulation of native fishes. Students do water testing and learn about nitrogen fixing plants to heal the damage done to the soil from years of plantation farming. Next on the agenda is a reef study program.

“Anahola is unique,” explains Kamahalo, “because the whole ahupua’a is accessible. You could not have a school like this anywhere else, we can get from the beach up mauka to the loi in 18 minutes.”

Malama ka aina teaches applicable life skills, a consistent involvement in community projects fosters a sense of pride as kids see the direct affect of their participation. These children are developing independence and self esteem as well as a sense of their place within their community. They get to understand how important they are for our future.

“We try to lift everybody up here,” says Al Ahloo, one of the schools project coordinators.”

Kanuikapono is a school without walls. Utilizing many outreach sites located island wide Kanuikapono offers a variety of learning environments to fulfill different educational experiences.

The school does have a temporary building located next to the Kamehameha preschool as well as a permanent site for a learning and resource center where building is scheduled to begin this summer. Although the school struggles with insufficient funding and faces budget cuts, its leaders are determined to move forward.

Kanuikapono is open to anyone on the island of Kauai demonstrating an interest and appreciation for the Hawaiian culture. It is accepting applications for the 2008-09 school year. To find out more about Kanuikapono visit the Web site at kanuikapono.org.

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