After graduating from high school and enrolling in college, Kukui Keeno quickly faced the tough reality many young adults grapple with here: How to realistically balance schooling with earning a living in the Islands.
The Kamehameha Schools graduate, who had three years of studying ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i under his belt, discovered a passion for teaching while volunteering with the Hawaiian medium education preschool system, Pūnana Leo. The experience eventually led to a teaching position for Keeno while he attended the University of Hawai‘i.
“But because of the fact that rent was due, I needed to work rather than go to school at the same time. I chose to work,” Keeno said.
He went on to teach in Hawaiian immersion schools for more than 20 years, including as a long-term substitute at Ke Kula Kaiapuni ‘o Anuenue, a K-12 school under Ka Papahana Kaiapuni Hawai‘i, the Department of Education’s Hawaiian Language Immersion Program.
In 2017, Keeno joined an inaugural cohort of teachers like himself — educators specializing in Hawaiian immersion and Hawaiian language who don’t hold a teaching certificate but are proficient in ʻōlelo Hawai‘i — to work toward licensure.
Kamalei Ontai was another member of that first cohort. She was fully raised in ʻōlelo Hawai‘i by her ‘ohana and attended Ke Kula ‘o Nāwahīokalani‘ōpu‘u in Hilo. Ontai graduated from high school two years early in 2015 and was pursuing a degree in Hawaiian Studies while tutoring at Pūʻōhala Elementary when she learned about the Hawaiian Special Permit program.
“As soon as I heard about it, I was like, ‘I’m in,’” Ontai said. “It’s really focused on helping our keiki in Kaiapuni by getting more kumu (teachers) in the classrooms.”
After she joined the permit program, Pūʻōhala hired her full-time as a 1st grade Kaiapuni teacher.
Special permit established to address critical shortage areas
Now in its third year, the Hawaiian Special Permit, known as Palapala A‘o Kūikawā (or Temporary Teaching Permit), was launched by the Office of Hawaiian Education (OHE) to help address critical shortages for certified teachers in the areas of Kaia‘ōlelo-Kaiapuni Hawai‘i, Hawaiian Language Immersion, and Hawaiian Studies/Knowledge. The program was made possible with partners from the Kaiapuni Educational Preparation Programs at UH Mānoa and UH Hilo, and support from the Office of Talent Management, Hawaiʻi Teacher Standards Board, Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association, and Kamehameha Schools.
The Kaiapuni program educates approximately 3,200 haumana at 17 HIDOE schools and six public charter schools through the medium of Hawaiian language. English is introduced as a subject starting in grade 5.
The Palapala A‘o Kūikawā permit may be awarded for five years, with one renewal, while an individual works toward certification from a state-approved teacher education program in Hawaiian Immersion Education. A Memorandum of Agreement with Kamehameha Schools provided up to $5,000 for tuition and $1,000 for books and supplies for candidates pursuing a Kaiapuni teaching license. (The agreement is currently set to expire June 30, 2019, but may be extended.)
Another Memorandum of Understanding with the Hawaii State Teachers Association allows for Palapala A‘o Kūikawā permittees to be covered by the union and its salary schedule. (The agreement also is currently set to expire June 30, 2019, but may be extended.)
“I was totally excited about this opportunity because it meant I could finally get paid as a teacher instead of as a substitute or emergency hire,” Keeno said. “The major benefit is being able to work and go to school at the same time.”
Keeno is taking core courses toward what he anticipates will be a bachelor’s degree in elementary education while teaching a combination class of 3rd and 4th graders at Ke Kula ‘o Samuel M. Kamakau Laboratory Public Charter School.
To be eligible for the Palapala A‘o Kūikawā program, applicants must:
Hold a minimum of a high school diploma.
Successfully complete an oral language proficiency exam (Loiloi ‘ōlelo).
Successfully complete a 30-hour induction class.
Submit a Cultural Growth and Development Plan showing the individual will complete a Hawaii teacher education program and obtain licensure.
Meet professional fitness requirements.
“Eventually we want to be able to get to a point where we can close this permit for good, where it’s no longer necessary and our classrooms will be filled with licensed teachers. The goal is to get them licensed and provide mentoring and professional development for these teachers who are already in our system,” said ʻĀnela Iwane, an educational specialist for Kaiapuni under OHE. “This is designed as another pathway to get them to Kaiapuni licensure as part of multiple strategies to address our shortage areas.”
Recruiting for third cohort underway
The first rollout in summer 2017 attracted 31 applicants, 14 of whom were awarded permits. The permittees had a mix of educational backgrounds, including some with associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. The following year, 13 individuals applied and five received special teaching permits, including mostly bachelor’s degree-holders along with some holding associate’s and master’s degrees.
The application deadline for the next cohort is March 22. Interested candidates may complete and submit an application to OHE. Questions can be directed to ‘Ānela Iwane via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or 808-784-6082.
“I call myself a nontraditional student because I went backward — I got the experience before I got the education,” Keeno said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world because I’ve developed so many skills. But at the same time, even if you’re the greatest teacher, we need to get that palapala (certification) so that you’re not looked over or passed up for opportunities. It’s a nice way to show that we’re moving forward and we’re serious about getting our degree.”
Ontai added that the commitment sets a good example for Kaiapuni students.
“If the kids see a big gap in kumu, they might think that adults don’t care about ʻōlelo,” she said. “If we show our keiki how much we care, they can blossom, when they can see everyone — the state and OHE — helping and making this a priority.”