Christopher Kaliko Baker didn’t grow up speaking Hawaiian.

Baker’s parents didn’t speak the language. His friends didn’t either. It wasn’t until college that he began to study the language of his people, finding both a greater sense of identity and a new path in life.

This week, Baker sat onstage at the Native Hawaiian Education Summit hosted by Kamehameha Schools and — speaking almost entirely in Hawaiian — told several hundred educators about raising his own children to speak the language.

“My kids do not disrespect us by speaking English at home,” he repeated to Civil Beat later. “My kids know wholeheartedly that they are Hawaiian. They never doubt it.”


Attendees at the summit were asked to split into groups and identify some of the characteristics that a 20 year-old Native Hawaiian should possess in the coming decade.

Jessica Terrell/Civil Beat

Being able to easily converse in Hawaiian is one of the skills that Baker, who now teaches Hawaiian at the University of Hawaii, believes all Native Hawaiian students should possess in the coming decade.

Defining what success should look like for Native Hawaiian young adults in 10 years — and how to measure those achievements — was a big focus of this year’s summit.

Although high school and college diplomas were on the list, scoring well on standardized tests was not.

“To me it’s about normalizing other methods of measurement and finding value in traditional cultural practices not limited to Western thinking,” said Kapua Keliikoa-Kamai, a parent and community member. “There are cultural values that can be molded into measures of success.”

Finding more holistic ways to measure student success beyond traditional testing is a growing topic of conversation nationwide, but it’s especially critical for the Native Hawaiian community, educators at the conference said.

“The story that has been told about Native Hawaiian children over recent decades has been pretty negative,” said Walter Kahumoku III, one of the summit organizers. “How do we describe success from our eyes, through our lens?”

In the Midst of Changes

The first Native Hawaiian Education Summit was held in 1993, in response to looming federal budget cuts for Hawaiian language programs.

Since 2013, when the summit was resurrected after a nearly two-decade hiatus, the annual event has helped shape a shared vision for Native Hawaiian education and drive some significant changes in the state.

This year alone, the Board of Education passed a new policy with six guiding principals for education in the state that are grounded in traditional Hawaiian belief systems. The BOE also created a new seal of biliteracy for high school graduates fluent in a second language — including Hawaiian.

The Department of Education, meanwhile, named the first director for the Office of Hawaiian Education earlier this summer — an office created in response to goals laid out at the 2013 summit.

And just two months ago, the DOE piloted new state tests in Hawaiian for third and fourth grade students at Hawaiian immersion programs.

More changes are to come.

Leadership panel  the the 2015 Native Hawaiian Education Summit. Kamehameha Schools.

Members of a leadership panel at the 2015 Native Hawaiian Education Summit.

Jessica Terrell/Civil Beat

UH President David Lassner told summit attendees that UH Hilo is working on a pathway for graduates of immersion programs that would allow them to seamlessly continue their education in Hawaiian and not have to switch to English upon arrival.

Hawaiian language and culture could also soon become a much bigger part of curriculum for all students in the state.

“One of the reasons for the Office of Hawaiian Education is because I think students who are not in immersion schools, who are not in culture-based or culture-focused schools, they are not gaining the knowledge, the benefit of truly understanding this place and culture and traditions,” DOE Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said. “We need to revitalize the classrooms for the other 180,000 students who live here.”

Doing that, Matayoshi said, will involve changing the perception that studying Hawaiian is a “second class” issue and making the wider community understand the importance and value of Hawaiian education.

“We are in the midst of an education revolution,” said Dawn Kaui Sang, the state’s first director for the Office of Hawaiian Education.

Dawn Kaui Sang, the new director of the Office of Hawaiian Education speaks at a conference on native Hawaiian education. 21 july 2015.

Dawn Kaui Sang, the new director of the Office of Hawaiian Education, speaks at the summit.

Jessica Terrell/Civil Beat

A ‘Tipping Point’

When it came to defining characteristics of a successful Native Hawaiian 20-year-old in the next decade, summit organizers said they selected that age in part because of labor statistics about the lifetime earning potential of college graduates.

The median national weekly wage for a high school graduate is $668, compared with $1,101 for workers with a four-year college degree.

According to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, 91.2 percent of Native Hawaiians had a high school diploma in 2010, while 31.4 percent had earned an associate’s degree and 14.3 percent held a bachelor’s degree or higher.

“The story that has been told about Native Hawaiian children over recent decades has been pretty negative. How do we describe success from our eyes, through our lens?” — Walter Kahumoku III

Conference attendees broke into nearly two dozen groups to brainstorm what qualities young adults should leave the education system with — the first step to then looking for alternative assessments.

“The Unabomber made good grades. So is that success?” asked Nolan Malone, an educational consultant and summit speaker. “Let’s focus on what’s important.”

One of the most important values that the groups identified was for young adults to have a strong sense of identity. Young Hawaiians should be grounded and have a sense of place. Other answers included having a strong sense of responsibility and community.

Many of the values identified by the groups aligned with the BOE policy adopted earlier this year for the state, Kahumoku said. That policy states that the DOE should work as a system with the community to “strengthen a sense of belonging, responsibility, excellence, aloha, total-well-being and Hawaii (BREATH) in ourselves, students and others.”

The next step, Kahumoko said, will be to take the results of the tests piloted in Hawaiian earlier this year and try to expand that work for all grades.

“We are just at the right tipping point to advance this in a pretty fast way,” he said.

Information from the conference will be posted online in coming weeks.

“What we are trying to build now is a road, a path for us all to travel down,” summit speaker Kalehua Krug said. “Not just for the Department of Education, but charter schools, Kamehameha Schools, higher education …  all Hawaiian-serving institutions.”

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