While Hawaiian immersion education programs are celebrating their 30th year, one Maui school is taking things to another level. Founded in 2016 by Kumu Hula Joy Salvador, Ke Kula ‘o Pi‘ilani is the first—and only—nonprofit, independent Hawaiian language school, ever. Beginning its third year with students in papa mālaa‘o (kindergarten) through papa ‘ekolu (3rd grade), the school’s programs are evolving beyond language immersion, towards a more values-based, place-based, hands-on education through the medium of Hawaiian language.

Pi‘ilani centers on three values: aloha, kuleana, and ‘imi ‘ike.  Paramount to all is aloha: aloha for the language, for people, for the ‘āina, and for knowledge. In practicing aloha, haumāna (students) are brought to understand their kuleana to themselves, to their ‘ohana, their surrounding community, and the world. Towards realizing this kuleana, students are driven to ‘imi ‘ike, to seek knowledge, a value that was integral to the lives of our ancestors who observed, experimented, listened, and sought advancement. With haumāna firmly planted in these values, learning ensues.

The school’s independent status enables it to create highly innovative lessons, far outside the classroom walls, with Kumu Joy Salvador and Sarah Naone taking full advantage of their ‘Īao Valley location on the Hawaii Nature Center campus. Here they are teaching students to kilo—to deeply observe the weather, the river, the plants and surrounding environment—and to show respect through oli, protocol, and mālama ‘āina. 

Pi‘ilani also invites practitioners into the classroom to leverage community resources and provide real-life cultural experiences. This year, students will learn hula from Kumu Lee James Ha‘o, mele from Peter Moon Jr., ulana (weaving) from Pōhaku Kaho‘ohanohano, farming and kalo from Lani Eckart-Dodd, and mālama ‘āina and native plants from Irene Newhouse.  After all this exploration, students return to the classroom where their kumu contextualize the hands-on work into lessons in math, science, reading, writing, and art.

Ke Kula ‘o Pi’ilani

To round out the education, Kekai Robinson teaches Ka Piko Kaiao (family classes). Ka Piko Kaiao is designed to fully integrate with the school curriculum, complete with huaka‘i (field trips) and lessons from practitioners, to enable parents, care givers, and siblings to learn alongside the students and extend the education into the home.

By intertwining students, ‘ohana, community, place, and core values the school pursues its mission: Grounded in the language, values, and ‘ike of our kūpuna, Ke Kula ‘o Pi‘ilani strives to inspire a lifelong love of learning by cultivating an enriching environment in which diverse students grow to be united, confident, globally competitive student leaders who think critically and creatively to contribute to the betterment of Maui, Hawai‘i, and the world. To learn more go to www. or call 808-214-5006. All students are welcome.

Image Credit: Ke Kula o' Pi'ilani, Ke Kula ‘o Pi’ilani

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