Language revitalization featured at education conference


HONOLULU - Language revitalization programming was highlighted at the 38th annual convention of the National Indian Education Association, held in Honolulu Oct. 25 - 28. Approximately 3,000 attendees from tribes throughout the United States were welcomed by the organization's first Native Hawaiian president, VerlieAnn Leimomi Malina-Wright, vice principal of the K - 12 Ke Kula Kaiapuni o Anuenue Hawaiian language immersion school. Hawaiian language chanting and hula by Anuenue's Hawaiian-speaking football team were part of the opening ceremonies.

Excursions to visit 'Aha Punana Leo language nest preschools and Hawaiian language immersion school sites including Anuenue were well-attended. Some groups arrived a number of days before the conference to spend more time at immersion sites.

Throughout the conference, a wide variety of presentations on Native language teaching were held. One special feature was a two-day forum on language revitalization through immersion schooling held in the convention center theater. The forum featured panels of teachers, community members, teacher preparation programs, researchers and administrators discussing national best practices in immersion. The high academic performance of students in Native language immersion programs nationwide was stressed by researchers.

The NIEA convention coincided with the 20th anniversary of the Hawaii State Department of Education's incorporation of the students and programming of the nonprofit 'Aha Punana Leo's preschool students into the public schools. The top public school official of the state, Superintendent of Education Patricia Hamamoto, spoke at the forum and other venues of the conference, highlighting the continued commitment of the state to education through the Hawaiian language and expanded programming for the future.

Before the Punana Leo preschools began, fewer than 50 children under age 18 were fluent in Hawaiian. Today, there are more than 2,000 enrolled in Hawaiian immersion programs, the largest enrollment for any Native language immersion effort. The Hawaii model from preschool to grade six is total immersion with English introduced in a one-hour English language arts course in grades five and six. For intermediate and high school, most immersion students continue in the same model; but in areas with fewer resources, intermediate and high school students receive some courses through Hawaiian while sharing other courses in English with other students.

On the last night of the conference, the NIEA recognized the contributions of Hawaii in Native language immersion education in its awards ceremony. Larry Kimura, veteran Hawaiian language activist and professor of Hawaiian at the state's Hawaiian language college at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, received the Educator of the Year Award. The 'Aha Punana Leo, which began the movement to remove an English-only ban on Hawaiian in state schools and played a major role in passage of the Native American Languages Act, received the Cultural Freedom Award.