Sunday, March 30, 2014

Hoʻōla: Annual Concert to Benefit Hawaiian Language Education in Waimea

students/teachers from the first class (1995) with students/teachers from the current class (2014)

Yesterday was our biggest annual fundraiser, Hoʻōla! Its a free community event with music, entertainment, silent auction, lucky number drawings, kids games, food, crafts...this year there was even a petting zoo! We really pull out all the stops to make sure this is both high-quality and completely accessible. Its a lot of work to organize, but totally worth it in the end. We always have fun and I always make off with some crazy deal on a date-night activity via the silent auction.

For me, one of the best parts of Hoʻōla is meeting other people who are interested in Hawaiian language. Because Alo Kēhau is a small school in a somewhat rural town, it can start to feel like living in a bubble. Events like these effectively pop that bubble by showing how many people care about Hawaiian and enjoy speaking or even just hearing it. Although I admit that I still struggle in making an effort to speak it when its not absolutely necessary (English is just infinitely easier).

I might not have said more than two Hawaiian words all day yesterday...
oh God, that is kind of embarrassing.

our local treasure, Kuʻulei on the left, Kaimana on the right

Kaimama, host of the weekly Hawaiian language radio show Alana i Kai Hikinia on KWXX, very graciously co-emceed Hoʻōla. When I mentioned that I enjoy his program he laughed and joked "its nice to know we have a listener". Maybe I'm not the only one who feels isolated. And maybe its not so much about the size of the platform or the breadth of exposure. Its important to see and hear the language being used in unfamiliar or unexpected places and people. I think it quietly reminds us that we aren't alone in our efforts.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Indigenous Languages and Mathematics Vocabulary

The other day I heard a new spin on the same old song:
"well, I totally believe it what you guys are doing...but there is just no way these kids can keep up with higher level mathematics."
Really?  I've never heard this argument in reference to math! And its probably because I was having this conversation with a fellow teacher (who can't so easily dismiss the cognitive benefits of bilingualism).

I have to admit that I wasn't exactly able to slam the book on the case, either. I know that our school uses a variety of Singapore math (then again, who doesn't?) but I don't know the name of the actual curriculum. Or if there even is one. Because the curriculum not only has to be translated into Hawaiian, it also has to align with Hawaiian pedagogy, there is no easy answer for a mainstream American curriculum that will fit into a school like Nawahi. And, frankly, having an empirically sound curriculum doesn't necessarily guarantee student success.

My friend's point was that higher level mathematics requires a certain broadness of vocabulary that he wasn't sure exists in modern Hawaiian. Helix-whatevers and spiral-cluster-mabobs... How can a Hawaiian school teach these concepts to a student? Inevitably, they will fall behind their English-speaking counterparts. (Or, as this teacher put it, they have to be given supplemental instruction at home in order to achieve on the same level).

Now, this might be because I'm not a higher level math person (I could barely follow this conversation in English), but I'm under the impression that vocabulary is mostly semantics. It doesn't really matter what you call it, just that there is a word that clearly identifies the concept. Hawaiians came up with a word for iPhone (ipona) so I'm sure they can figure out a word for Parabolas. In fact, there is an entire modern Hawaiian dictionary that has all kinds of useful math-y vocabulary.

Students at Nawahi have SAT/ACT scores that are on average with other American students. They aren't blowing them away, but they aren't completely bombing the test either. And that test is always given in English, which makes this an encouraging statistic. I left the conversation wondering if Hawaiian or math was the real problem. If my kids went to a more common language school - like Japanese or French - would the concern be the same? Is the real fear that an indigenous language like Hawaiian can't possibly communicate more sophisticated and modern concepts (like pure mathematics)?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Fantasy vs Reality: Other Cultures "Doing It Better"

My good friend recently came across this article from Vogue about a woman who moves to Paris with her two small children only to have her Francophile dreams crushed under the reality that the French have not yet found the miracle cure for motherhood. What a shocker. What's even more shocking is that this isn't the only French-have-it-figured-out text I encountered this week, another friend was reading a titillating book called French Twist (and loving it). And, frankly, after watching Sicko, Mr A and I were ready to pack up and move to France too.

I could write an entire post about my conflicted feelings for the Pacific Northwest

All joking aside, I've held onto a very real, far-off dream that someday I will (temporarily) whisk my family away to a foreign country. Something short-term, but still longer than a vacation. Basically, I want to do what I did as a wild & free young adult, but share that exhilaration and heartache with the people dearest to me. Culture shock is more tolerable as a group catharsis. I also admit that I share many of the same aspirations Ms Senna talked about, exposing my children to a more worldly perspective and lifting the veil of their rather sheltered American upbringing. Actually, I could argue that is precisely why we are raising them in Hawaii and not Wisconsin.

culture shock in Japan hurt the worst because I was terribly naive & my fantasy was totally delusional

Bringing Down Bebe reads like a warning manual on the dangers of putting all your eggs into one charmingly handcrafted basket. A new culture, a new perspective, is certainly refreshing and can help brush the dust off of latent insights on our own world. However, it is naive to assume that these cultures are prescriptive and can be applied universally as a means to a fantastic end.

Thailand - the experience was aided by the absence of any expectations

Hawaii is particularly susceptible to this kind of bloated expectation, being that it is a "paradise" and I think many people move here in search of that ideal. Some actually find it - their quality of life improves and they discover deeper meaning on the white sandy beaches - and some leave grossly disappointed and disillusioned, unable to reconcile the fantasy with the reality of things like meth addiction, gasoline prices, and a teeny weeny job market.

by the time I got to Hawaii, I was better equipped to deal with disappointment

I hope that someday my dream will come true and we will all be fumbling our way through a foreign land together. But I'm certainly not going to assume that we will stumble upon the secret to happiness in a quaint little bazaar. In fact, if we come home with minor psychological damage and a few inside jokes about regional cuisine, I will consider the experience a win.

Years ago, a good friend told me (as her parting words of wisdom before I left for study-abroad) - "your life is your life, no matter where you live." This is truth. Certainly, different places have touched me in different ways, some being more compatible than others. But, the cultivation of happiness and satisfaction with myself needs to be happening within me, so that when the time comes, that light can shine in whichever community I choose to live.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Reflection on Insights PBS Hawaii: What Role Does Hawaiian Language Play In Our State?

PBS Hawaii recently aired this episode of Insights (a super hoihoi show) that discusses the question: what role does Hawaiian language play in our state?  The panel is fantastic and if you choose to watch the entire show Puakea Nogelmeier will not disappoint. He is always thoughtful and insightful with just a touch of wit. Heʻs probably my favorite Hawaiian language advocate (activist?), and I think that can at least partially be attributed to the fact that he is also not ethnically Hawaiian. When he commented about being German and not speaking German (and not feeling guilty about it), it was like he tapped into the darkest corner of my heart, found my secret and gave it a little kiss.

Puakea brings up a great point early in the show that "...the suspicion of bilingualism is American" (9:52) One need look no further than the infamous comments section of this YouTube broadcast (or the great Superbowl Coke commercial fiasco) to see that this statement is truth. When I was an exchange student, it drove me nuts that the European kids were not only far better at picking up Japanese, they also knew at least two other languages on top of that. And, being American, I wasnʻt even counting English (because isnʻt everyone supposed to know English?!). It seems that bilingualism is not only normal in Europe, its expected. As a result, the Swedish kids who knew absolutely no Japanese in September, had already surpassed me and my two years of college-level classes by the end of spring break. I, for one, want a piece of that cognitive pie!

That suspicion is what keeps me from busting out Hawaiian in the middle of Foodland. That Iʻm white only makes me more self-conscious. Hawaiian today is accepted in its decorative form, but the functional form...*sigh* I dunno, it feels more sacred somehow. And I worry that people will think I am taking something away from Native Hawaiians or trivializing it somehow if I just walk around the park yelling out "Kekoa, ma hea ʻoe?!" Though the truth is, I should be doing exactly that. I have to force myself to use it, even when it feels uncomfortable to do so. Because how can I expect my kids to do it if I am too afraid?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Mele Murals in Waimea - Building Community Through Public Works of Art

Mele Murals is a series of murals across the state of Hawaii, based on local songs or legends. The mural is a collaborative project, bringing together students, professional artists, musicians, and cultural advisers to create a work that will be inspired and treasured by the community. Mele Murals is a 5 year project, backed by the Estria Foundation. Waimea's piece, on the side of Kahilu Theatre, is the first on Big Island.

artists Prime (far left), Kanoa Castro (second to left) and Estria (far right)

This project was brought to Waimea by Kanoa Castro (second from left), a local artist and teacher at Kanu O Ka Aina Public Charter School who happens to also be a Pūnana Leo parent. Its a credit to the entire town that this project was completed in just four short days. My favorite part was seeing the upper school students from Kanu, who were so moved to stand in the presence of their creation they could hardly contain their tears. That is something I will likely recall each time I walk by this wall.

The students from Pūnana Leo and ʻAlo Kēhau helped paint and performed at the unveiling, both a hula and oli from the murals' theme.

Nā Puʻu Kaulana o Waimea

The first wall is based on the song Nā Puʻu Kaulana o Waimea (The Famous Hills of Waimea). Each district in Hawaii has its own special something - an answer to that infamous question "who are you?" - and here in Waimea ours is most definitely these beautiful, rolling hills. This mural also calls attention to our watershed, the connection between the hills and the fresh water we all need to survive.

this image is inspired by the Kumulipo, the Hawaiian chant of creation

One of my favorite details in this panel is the ghostly Kīpuʻupuʻu warriors in the upper right-hand corner. Kīpuʻupuʻu is another "Waimea thing", its a name for the slanted, whipping rains that sting your skin and chill you to the bone. Kamehameha's most elite warriors were bestowed with that same moniker. These warriors from the past, being led by the light of their chief, are coming down from the clouds just like their namesake.

Hole Waimea

Hole (hoe-leh) Waimea is a chant that also talks about the Kīpuʻupuʻu rains. The dramatic slant of these drops references that fierce rainfall. The drops showcase different flora and elemental features significant to this region.

In the bottom left we see the well-known story of Manaua (whose basking rock you can visit in town), the moʻowahine of Kohākohau stream. According to my son, if you want to swim in a pond (her pond?) you have to place a ti leaf on the water. If the leaf floats, go ahead and swim. But, if it sinks, Manaua is there and she will capture you.

shoot! The logo got cut off :( I'll have to repost a better photo later

I love this beautiful detail of the red lehua blossom, which is the flower for our island. Below the lyrics, there is also an emblem from Idle No More. Kanu students came up with this logo and have used it for many demonstrations related to Hawaiian issues, but the one that stands out in my mind is the recent protests to further construction on Mauna Kea, specifically the TMT. I'm happy they included it in this mural as a testament to the fact that we should continue to speak out in support of what we believe.

Mālana Mai

The words for this chant came from the journals of Queen Emma as she took a trip around the island of Hawaii. They were later put into chant form and this oli is now used for the Makaliʻi, which is our local voyaging canoe based out of Kawaihae Harbor.

There is so much awesomeness going on here, Iʻm not sure where to start.  The chant talks about how the different districts of Hawaii island coming together. Here, on the left side in blue, there is makawalu or "eight eyes", which is an idiom that means to see things from many perspectives. You can see the shape of Mauna Kea, the white snow cap of Poliʻahu, the koholā (whales), the rainbows, the sunshine, the dark many aspects that come together to create Hawaii and her culture.

There is also, in this mural and Nā Puʻu Kaulana o Waimea, a specific starline depicted in the night sky. Polynesian voyagers use these starlines to navigate the open ocean without any GPS or even a compass. I can't remember the name of the line they used here, but I do know that the constellation Makaliʻi (aka Pleiades) is up there somewhere.

The 3 pikos - past, present and future

Let me just say that when we went out with the kids to paint it was raining. Not just any rain, a full-scale deluge. The kind of rain only Waimea could be proud of. I was horrified on Monday to see the paint being so lovingly applied then just sliding down the wall into a sloppy puddle on the sidewalk. I crossed my fingers that they would get at least one nice day so the paint would have time to...I dunno, stay on the wall at the very least!  The next three days were perfect. In fact, it didn't rain again until the unveiling, which seemed so appropriate. They left a tasteful sampling of the runny smears and streaks, which will always remind me of that "miserable" afternoon. This mural was so collaborative, even our weather got a hand in its creation!

the lovely, drippy, scales our children so gleefully painted <3

Monday, March 3, 2014

Hakalama - Syllabary Reading for Learning Literacy

Hakalama: Pūnana Leo's Literacy Program from Oiwi TV on Vimeo.

"No matter what language you learn to read in, you can transfer the skill of reading into another language. Especially if you are using the same alphabet, like English and Hawaiian." 
- Pila Wilson, PhD

Being that we chose the only non-English school option in town, it probably comes as no surprise that I am constantly fielding questions about literacy. Specifically, aren't I worried about my children "falling behind"? Though I shared many of these same concerns, I don't think anyone chooses this path believing their child will miss the proverbial bus.

Hawaiian uses a syllabary writing system, meaning 'this is what you see, this is how you say it'. Period. In my opinion, it makes learning to read simple, especially for a small child. It is no wonder that kids using syllabary systems can read up to two years earlier than their English-reading counterparts! At one point, Hawaiian schools used a funky system of alphabetic letters that were both confusing and unnecessary (L=la, N=nu, so you would spell lani as la-a-nu-i...wth???). Moving past that Western model of alphabet/phonics and using a more intuitive system like Hakalama is yet another testament to the success of teaching Hawaiian from a Hawaiian perspective. 

My kindergartener learns to read and spell using hakalama, not individual letters. For example, teaching him how to read/spell Hapuna you would simply say "ha-pu-na".  Easy peasy. We occasionally run into code-switching issues, for example English 'e' and Hawaiian 'i', which are both pronounced the same way. Today, Ikaika wanted to write "T-Rex" and wrote it "T-Rix" after listening to me spell it in English (tee-are-ie-ex). I think it helps to be very clear about what language you are using before trying to read/write/spell.

Rather than put the kids at a disadvantage, I think teaching them to read using Hakalama puts them at a distinct advantage for later bilingual literacy. They are gaining the confidence and the understanding of how literacy works using a system that makes sense, rather than English which is full of frustrating irregularities. An ELL teacher once confided in me that she spends an inordinate amount of time apologizing to her students for English ("yes, I know we said C sounds like /k/ but right now it sounds like /ch/...and now it sounds like /s/...I'm sorry."). I'm fairly confident that between me, PBS Kids and the low shelf at the grocery store, my children will be able to develop English literacy skills without the scary struggle of my pre-immersion program nightmares. The foundation is already there.

Hawaiian hakalama is similar to Japanese hiragana

As far as my children are concerned, Ikaika (elder brother) is an exceptionally bright child and has a predilection for reading that can only be credited to the Lord. I didn't notice when he began reading Hawaiian and I certainly didn't know he was capable of reading English until the day I thought we should try a few flashcards and he read a book instead. He's now interested in reading Japanese, although I'm starting to realize that in a world full of Latin letters, hiragana is awfully hard to memorize. I have to expose him to it at least every other day or its probably not going to sink in.

Now that I'm aware of the different stages of literacy I can keep an eye on Kekoa (younger brother) and get a better idea of where he is so I can better support him. Currently, he is able to understand that letters make words and words represent ideas, though he's not quite at the stage of distinguishing what those are. If you stick two cards in front of him, he can point to the one that says his name, but he can't identify the first letter as either English "K" or Hawaiian "Ke".