The Kupuna Component
The word kupuna refers to “a grandparent, ancestor, relative, or close friend of grandparent’s generation, grandaunt, granduncle,” according to the Pukui and Elbert Hawaiian-English dictionary. In Hawaii’s public elementary and middle schools, some 220 kupuna, or cultural personnel resources, play an integral role to advance Hawaiian education.
For some 30 years, the kupuna have shared their knowledge of Hawaiian culture, history and language to help instill in students an appreciation of Hawaii’s rich history, native traditions, and perspectives. They collaborate with Hawaiian Studies staff and educators to develop high quality place-based educational experiences for children through lessons as well as stories, songs, crafts and dance.
Kupuna Minerva Pang, who has taught Hawaiian values, history and culture, including free hula classes, to countless students since joining Momilani Elementary in 1986.
What made you decide to become a Kupuna at Momilani?
When my daughter was at the University of Hawaii studying Hawaiian Studies, her professor asked the class if anyone had parents over the age of 55 who would be interested in joining the DOE's Hawaiian Studies Program. At the time, I was busy teaching hula and hadn't given a thought to the teaching of Hawaiiana. But I decided to find out more about the Hawaiian Studies Program and later interviewed for a "Kupuna" position. I was selected for Momilani Elementary and have been here ever since.
What is a regular workday like for you at Momilani? Do you have any other roles at the school?
I teach kindergarten and first grade students on Wednesdays, and also help with grade-level music performances for a grandparent's luncheon. For students visiting Iolani Palace and Lanikuhonua (Cultural Institute), I help get them ready with the learning of appropriate, respectful Hawaiian chants. Afterschool, I teach hula at no charge!
What do you hope students will learn from the Kupuna Program?
I work to impart on students Hawaiian culture, language and heritage because the students are from Hawaii.
You have been involved with Hawaiian education for nearly three decades. Has the teaching of Hawaiian language and culture changed over the years?
I have been at Momilani since 1986. Not much has changed, but lessons have expanded because there is so much to share. The most important things to teach are "ho`ihi" (respect) and "aloha" (loving, caring and sharing).
Any moments stand out in your career?
In September 2011, Momilani School celebrated 25 years of my service. Working with the wonderful students, teachers and principal keeps me happy, healthy and strong! My doctor recommends I keep on working and walking those stairs!
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Coming to school and sharing with the children of my Hawaiian Studies class, including language and music especially.
What is next for you?
I’d like to work at least two more years to make 30 years of service at Momilani – then I'll turn 90 years young! My friends tell me "Go for it!" As long as my health is good, I’ll be with Momilani.