Indigenous education builds toward the future

Thursday, March 15th, 2012
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by Catherine Tarleton, Special to NHN

“My school has a roof!” says Eryn Tamura, 4. “My school has glass!” Whenever she visits her mother Allyson Tamura, Co-Director of Kanu O Ka Aina New Century Charter School (“Kanu”), Eryn is excited to see progress. She will attend Kindergarten in the new Halau Pokii building, now under construction.

“She notices everything,” said Allyson Tamura. “She owns it already.”

Kanu is adding two new buildings: Halau Pokii (pre-school) and Halau Puke (library and classrooms for 6-12th grade). The project will add 12,000 square feet to Kanu’s campus, when completed at the end of June.

“It’s exciting to see the actual building for the kids,” said Tamura. “When I first came, they were still in tents… The new building will offer technology capabilities like our Smart Board interactive whiteboard, computer programming, graphic arts, digital printing, and the other resources we have.”

“We want our kids to be able to walk in both worlds,” said Co-Director Pat Bergin. Although Hawaiian language is incorporated into the curriculum from pre-school on, and Hawaiian tradition permeates the school culture, Kanu is not an immersion school or a private school for Native Hawaiian students. “We consider ourselves an indigenous education institution,” she said. “Indigenous education is worldwide.”

Project Manager Ken Melrose of Paahana Enterprises LLC, oversees the $10 million construction project, which will include infrastructure for Kanu’s comprehensive future campus, named Kauhale Oiwi O Puukapu. The total campus will comprise 30 acres and numerous modular buildings, gardens, outdoor learning and activity spaces. Funding for the current construction project is provided by a loan from the United States Department of Agriculture through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“The photovoltaic system will produce enough power to run the entire campus,” said Melrose. “Forty-nine kilowatts—that’s a lot.” Both new buildings are being constructed with green, high performance technology and the use of alternative building methods and energy sources, with extensive use of natural light and ventilation.

Building ventilation on windward sides is provided by jalousies set horizontally, parallel to the ground. Natural intake allows warm air to enter the room near the floor and rise to the ceiling. The system’s controls monitor CO2 levels and temperature in the room; and open and close the jalousies to adjust. “Concentration of CO2 affects the learning environment,” said Melrose. “We’ve been using this type of building automation system in the schools over the last five years.”

“For me, one of the most exciting features is the outside learning space,” said Melrose. Classrooms and public areas lead out to an open-air lanai with mature ohia posts supporting the roof. The ohia was obtained from property owners in the process of clearing lots in south Kona.

“Students can go in and out,” said Melrose. “They come indoors for focused periods of time then go out for projects.” Projects may start on campus and range to other educational sites, e.g., Waipio Valley or Puupulehu.

Indoor-outdoor teaching spaces are strategically placed on the leeward side of the buildings. All buildings circle the school’s “Piko” a central outdoor multipurpose learning space. “It’s a variation on the quadrangle,” said Melrose. “Remember the old ‘quads’ when you were in school?”

“This is far more advanced,” said Melrose. “The teaching pedagogy at KALO is different from when you and I went to school. In those days, the teacher stood in front of the classroom and marked on a chalkboard… KALO is project-based. We use projects to teach all the disciplines. And project-based learning is flexible to accommodate different size groups and different age groups.”

The buildings’ design incorporates three different classroom sizes to provide flexibility for teachers and students, from “small hui” for 6-10 haumana, to “large hui” of 30 or more, with pocket doors to divide the space as needed.

Co-Directors Pat Bergin and Allyson Tamura look forward to the new buildings almost as much as four-year-old Eryn does.

“Our long term dream is for about 250 elementary and 250 high school students,” said Bergin. “Our current growth is stable at about 10 percent per year, and we are happy to keep it small, because each class has two teachers.”

As to what she hopes for her daughter Eryn, Tamura says, “I want her to be grounded in her Hawaiian values and be able to compete and succeed in the world.”

“We want her to also have a good basic education that will allow or prepare her for college and career,” said Bergin. “We want all our kids to be college and career ready. We offer them that opportunity.”

For more information on Kanu O Ka Aina New Century Public Charter School and KALO’s other educational programs, visit or call 887-1117.

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