Among the hundreds of students who earned their diplomas during the December 2013 University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa commencement ceremony was a small group of veteran teachers. Kuuleimomi Kanahele, Leiala Kaohelaulii, Lulu Kelley and Kaipolani Pahulehua successfully completed the requirements for a bachelor’s degree in education.
“All of us in the college are proud to call these dedicated, hardworking and passionate teachers alumni,” said UH Mānoa College of Education Dean Donald B. Young. “The Niʻihau cohort’s graduation is a great example of the college’s outreach and distance programs and our efforts to serve Native Hawaiians. I am also grateful to our faculty who extended themselves to make this happen.”
In an effort to protect and preserve Niʻihau School under the No Child Left Behind Act, these teachers began their participation in a unique program five and a half years ago. Spearheaded by Hoʻokulāiwi Center for Native Hawaiian and Indigenous Education in the College of Education, the program gained the support of many government agencies, including the Hawaiʻi State Legislature, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Department of Education, Hawaiʻi Teachers Standards Board and the University of Hawaiʻi. Owners and families of Niʻihau also came together in support of these teachers and their school.
“My experience in the College of Education has been a great and life changing experience,” Kanahele said. “I have learned so much through the guidance of numerous UH Mānoa faculty. Our last year in the program was also a success because of the College of Education’s financial support. There were so many obstacles, but it was worth it.”
Hoʻokulāiwi secured grant funding from OHA to offset the costs of tuition and conducting classes on Niʻihau, Kauaʻi and Oʻahu. Instructors from Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge and the College of Education worked with Niʻihau cohort coordinators, Kahea Faria and Jay Taniguchi, to hold classes during school breaks and holidays so there was no disruption in the children’s learning on Niʻihau.
Kelley added, “Earning a degree was a challenge for me, but the journey was worth the time. This gave me the opportunity to encourage our children to be proud of who they are and continue to seek knowledge.”
The teachers also honored a fifth member of their cohort and former Niʻihau lead teacher, Jennifer Kahelani Kaohelaulii. “Ms. K,” as she was affectionately known, was instrumental in bringing this cohort to fruition and was a staunch supporter of the program until her untimely passing in December of 2011.
Faria concluded, “Because of the tireless efforts of these teachers and their supporters, the Niʻihau School will continue on, building off of the success of each generation of teachers from the past to the present and beyond.”