Na Puka Kula: Hawaiian Immersion Graduates


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His two-year assignment ended early after a violent revolution had him fearing for his life. Kyrgyzstan was a turning point. He “plopped back down” in Hilo, where he once thought he’d never return. The comfort and familiarity of home which drove him away in his younger years was now the draw. “I came to appreciate what I want to do in my life, where I want to spend my life—in this state, where I have my strongest sense of community and place.”

Now back in Hawaii, he’s in his second year of a three-year Hawaiian language and literature master’s program at UH Hilo. He’s also teaching at his high school alma mater. His wanderlust is, at the moment, quenched. “I’ve had my share of experiences,” he says. If he were to leave again, it would be for more education—law school, perhaps—so that he can return and contribute to the “brain gain in Hawaii.”

With nine years of life experience between now and his immersion school days, he sees Nawahi as one of many influences on his life, essential but not definitive. If, or when, he has children, he’s unsure if he’ll send them to immersion school. “Since I do speak Hawaiian, I can give that to my kids on my own time.”

Hawaiian was Kapulani Conradt’s first language. After graduating from BYU Hawaii, she now teaches kindergarten at her alma mater.

photo: joshua fletcher

Kapulani Conradt

Graduate of Ke Kula O Ehunuikaimalino in Konawaena, Hawaii Island, class of 2007

There were three graduates in the first class of Ehunuikaimalino, though Kapulani Conradt, 22, remembers starting with 20 to 30 classmates. Some left to play sports at bigger public schools, while others succumbed to doubts about the immersion program’s utility. “I was going to prove them wrong,” she says.

After graduation, Conradt went to Utah Valley University for three semesters before returning home to major in Hawaiian Studies at Brigham Young University–Hawaii. The school, with its honor and dress codes, felt familiar and supportive, but the major maybe too familiar. “I thought it was a stereotype—Hawaiian immersion kids going on to do Hawaiian studies to be Hawaiian language teachers. I didn’t want that at first. But, while I was away, it didn’t feel right to do anything else.”

Hawaiian was Conradt’s first language—she started in Punana Leo, the Hawaiian language preschools that touched off the Hawaiian language immersion schools. She had difficulty learning English in high school (after fifth grade, students receive formal English instruction), and didn’t feel prepared for college. “It was hard,” she says. “I wasn’t used to the type of work that we had to do [at UVU], how much reading that we had to do, the competition. The other students had a lot more education, I guess.”

Still, she wouldn’t hesitate to send her children to a Hawaiian language immersion school, in addition to the teaching she would provide at home, because she feels “it’s easier, it’s not as intimidating. It’s like a family,” she says.

Now, she teaches kindergarten back at Ehunuikaimalino. There are many more opportunities for the students than when she attended, such as online classes, but, more important, there’s a stronger sense of stability now that the school has a track record. She plans to pursue a teaching license, and then hopes to attend law school to eventually deal with “something in Hawaiian issues, land rights, land use.”

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