Growing Our Own on Hawaii's Wai‘anae Coast

Blog Post
May 16, 2019

The Institute for Native Pacific Education and Culture, INPEACE, was established in 1994 by Dr. Kathy Au, Dr. Alice Kawakami, and Sherlyn Goo, three visionary, community-minded educators who sought to address the high rate of teacher turnover in Hawaii’s Nānākuli-Wai‘anae Complex Area elementary schools. These educators shared the following core principles and beliefs:

  • Education will improve quality of life
  • Community partnerships are essential to the education process
  • Communities have resources and assets
  • Communities have the right to self-determination
  • Culturally-grounded experiences are essential to the educational process
  • Cultural strengths support education.

The marriage of these ideas led to the birth of the first INPEACE program, Ka Lama o Ke Kaiāulu, a grow-your-own-teacher model to recruit community members from the Wai‘anae Coast to become teachers in their own community’s schools. The program, which is now called the Kūlia & Ka Lama Education Academy (KKLEA), has shifted and evolved over the years due to changes in funding and leadership at various levels, but the core focus remains strong. KKLEA practices a multipronged approach to empowering community members to reach their academic and professional dreams which, in turn, provides opportunity for economic security. Our participants are provided professional development opportunities rooted in place-based cultural learning, tuition subsidies, and school placement and retention services. This approach works to increase educational attainment for Native Hawaiian community members in the field of education, ranging from early childhood to elementary and secondary, thus fortifying the capacity of Coast educators to support Native Hawaiian learners’ success.

Moreover, because over 85 percent of our KKLEA team lives in community, we have an intimate understanding of the structural and systematic barriers faced by communities such as Waiʻanae that experience high rates of poverty, which is common in areas with a high concentrations of Native Hawaiians. Often times, the barriers to attain college degrees, teacher licensure, and economic security seem impossible to overcome. Yet KKLEA remains a beacon of light committed to providing our participants with caring, personalized support for the long haul.

KKLEA provides holistic supports to address the educational, social and cultural supports identified by the community that will aid in the attainment of their professional and academic goals. Recognizing that most of our students are non-traditional and of Native Hawaiian descent requires greater relational support and rapport building to nurture in them trust and belief in their innate capacity to be at the head of the classroom; to teach for Waiʻanae. Once this hurdle is overcome, the tangible supports roll out.

All participants pursuing a degree in education are provided with tuition and textbook support, which is paid directly to the institution of higher education they attend. Participants work one-on-one with a coach to develop Individual Professional Development Plans (IPDP) and Financial Plans that identify and address their needs and provide a road map to degree completion. In addition, KKLEA provides college, financial aid, and scholarship application supports to participants along with tutoring supports and PRAXIS preparation.

While working towards degree attainment, participants are assisted in securing on-the-job training opportunities in Coast schools. Professional workforce opportunities, such as substitute teaching, education assistant positions, paraprofessional teacher positions, and after-school aid positions are explored. From the application to the interview process, coaches provide continuous support. Once participants have the necessary degrees, participants form a pool of candidates qualified to fill Coast early childhood and K-12 educator positions and KKLEA's Teacher Career Placement component helps them identify, apply to, and be placed in educator positions on the Coast. Coaches work with graduates to understand employment options and related benefits, make decisions on their employment options, and prepare strong employment applications. Supports also include identification of vacant teacher positions, liaising between schools and teachers seeking employment, educating candidates on Hawaii State Department of Education hiring processes, and resume and interview skill building.

KKLEA recognizes that addressing the teacher shortage crisis in Hawaii will “take a village” and strive to continually establish and grow partnerships in support of the Waiʻanae community. Two new pilot programs that underscore our belief in the power of community were launched in the last school year. Our National Board Certification (NBC) cohort program, which began in Fall 2018, is a collaboration with Hawaii Teachers Standard Board, an expert trainer facilitates NBC component preparation sessions with KKLEA participants. The sessions are all held in community at times that are convenient for participants.

The Nānākuli Pilot Program (NPP) which was built with valued community partners, including Hawaii State Department of Education, Hawaii Teachers Standards Board, Leeward Community College, and Wai‘anae Moku Education Center, is designed to support the needs of the region’s non-traditional students, recruiting longstanding education assistants from Nānākuli interested in returning to school. Upon completion of the application process, students are enrolled in a cohort and hybrid classes (online and in person) led by LCC faculty that are scheduled after work hours and in community learning spaces. Drawing upon assets within our community, mentors and faculty are recruited to be part of NPP faculty and student supports. By the end of May 2019, KKLEA will celebrate 12 NPP cohort members completion of a Special Education Certificate through the pilot program. These individuals will continue towards their last year of the Associates of Science in Teaching degree program at Leeward Community College to be completed May 2020.

These two pilot programs underscore KKLEA’s recognition of community and the need to address the spectrum of academic and professional needs. Generational change is needed. It is our hope that our current NPP and NBC candidates will be mentors of future cohorts in their respective programs. KKLEA and its participants are paving the way towards an educational system that will uplift community and build an environment of learning and education that honors who they are and the community they are lucky to call home.

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