KEKAHA — Tracy Fredin of Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, announced they had 200 books done, Monday, during the 20th anniversary of Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha at the campus located across the road from Kekaha Elementary School.
“Congratulations,” said Ke Kula Ni‘ihau principal Tia Koerte. “This 20th anniversary is a testament to the perseverance, dedication, and commitment of the community to strengthen and perpetuate ‘olelo Ni‘ihau, or the Ni‘ihau dialect of the Hawaiian language.”
“The goal is ‘olelo Ni‘ihau from PreK to Grade 12,” Koerte said. “Today, with 200 books, our goal is 1,000 books. We’re currently at Grade 5 so there is a lot more work to be done. I’ve been here 12 years, seven in the position I’m in now. That means we’re about midway through the program, and I have a lot more time to devote to the program.”
Officially approved as a K-12 New Century Public Charter School on May 17, 2001, the campus located in Kekaha teamed with the Hamline University to learn about the Ni‘ihau people through the stories told by its keiki.
This program launched in 2019 with a visit by the Hamline University crew.
“You folks are the authors,” Fredin told the audience that numbered more than 60 students. “Without the work you’re doing, there would not be the 200 books. We’re just going to keep going. This is the first time we’ve been able to come and see you since the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The pandemic slowed us down, but the teachers at Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha really stepped it up. They worked with Taylor Fredin through Zoom and we got the work done.”
Currently, Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha features near capacity 60 students in grades PreK to 12, nearly double the number when the school opened its doors in 2001.
“We have graduation coming up, May 25,” Koerte said. “We have two seniors — Ku‘uwai Kahokuloa who will lead the oli, today, and Keawe Kanahele. We also honor the five PreK students who will be in kindergarten when the fall semester opens. It has been an honor to be part of the school’s program, and an even greater honor to be its leader.”
“Honoring our past to pave the way for the future” is this year’s theme, and brought to life as Kumu Hi‘ipoi Kanahele led the Pule Wehi opening.
“‘Mama’ Hi‘ipoi’s mother was one of the school’s founders,” said Billie Smith of the Ke Kula Ni‘ihau Curriculum Development Team. “Hi‘ipoi was here since the start, and today, two of her daughters are on staff here. Hi‘ipoi comes in almost daily, but teaches him on Wednesdays.”
That familial lineage continues as Tia’s mother is a teacher in one of the school’s elementary grades. Tia is also connected with Lorraine Lagoc Parongao, more affectionately known as “Nui” and the academic coach for Ke Kula Ni‘ihau as schoolmates at Waimea High School where they both shared time on the Menehune basketball court.
“When we get back, we’re moving forward,” Fredin said. “The stories is not just quantity, but qualify. We can talk about family and friends, life living in Kekaha and Waimea. We’re going to write more stories.”
Smith, stopping to enjoy the developing murals on the school’s main building depicting the island’s church as well as the Hawaiian church in Waimea, and a coastline from the keiki perspective with the shadow of Lehua and Nehoa in the background.
“We’re getting there,” Smith said. “Slowly, we’re learning about Ni‘ihau.”