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Thumbs Up For Immersion Ed

Meet the Hawaiian Immersion family from Kailua — with a non-native friend — (from left) mom Priscilla Fuentes Smith, son 'Ainamakuakahi, daughter Anuhea and dad Daniel Smith. The children attend Ke Kula Kaiapuni o Pu'ohala in Kaneohe. Photo from the family.

Meet the Hawaiian Immersion family from Kailua — with a non-native friend — (from left) mom Priscilla Fuentes Smith, son ‘Ainamakuakahi, daughter Anuhea and dad Daniel Smith. The children attend Ke Kula Kaiapuni o Pu’ohala in Kaneohe. Photo from the family.

By PRISCILLA FUENTES SMITH

We could not be happier with our decision four years ago to enroll our daughter, now entering sixth grade, and our fourth-grade son in Ke Kula Kaiapuni ‘o Pu’ohala, the Hawaiian Immersion program at Pu’ohala Elementary School in Kaneohe.

We only wish more parents took the time to educate themselves about the overwhelming benefits of a bilingual education, especially in their own backyard.

Our experience has been nothing short of amazing. Our kids are flourishing, and the small class size has been invaluable for our son, who sometimes struggles with social anxiety.

We can say with 100 percent certainty that our children are truly connected to their Hawaiian heritage and know that it’s their kuleana to continue to perpetuate their language and knowledge within their community and beyond.

We also support their involvement in Halau Mohala Ilima, and programs such as Ehuola, Papahana Kuaola, Na Pua No’eau, and other community service work days in the lo’i and fishponds.

But are they academically behind? No. Both are doing very well, and our daughter Anuhea has been an honor student throughout her school years. Our son ‘Ainamakuakahi recently made honor roll for the second time. Anuhea has met all the benchmarks and passed her HSA exams that are in English.

Do they get confused? No. They always have been very keen with whom they speak certain languages to. They’ve also been exposed to Spanish, my first language.

How will Hawaiian language benefit them in the future? Well, how is it NOT going to benefit them? You cannot put a price on an individual being connected to his or her ancestral roots and culture through language and everyday practices.

Language is just one component. They know their genealogy on both sides, know how to pick kalo, cook it and make poi. They know all makahiki games, hula, oli, medicinal plants and uses, moon phases, sacred sites and the history behind them.

You don’t have to be Hawaiian to be an immersion student. Although the majority of the families are Hawaiian, several families at our school are not.

Though it’s not for everyone, consider it as an option and take the time to learn the benefits. Visit an immersion campus, sit in on a class and witness the beauty that is the rebirth of Hawaiian language — and how quickly these keiki pick it up.

We stand steadfast and secure that we are doing our kuleana to educate and afford our children the knowledge and skills to continue to perpetuate the culture in the most authentic and pono manner.

The gift of an immersion education is one they will carry with them the rest of their lives, and it will only enhance their educational and career pursuits in their future.

For more information, visit ahapunanaleo.org and hawaiipublicschools.org and write “Kaiapuni” in the search box.

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