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Keaohou: culturally-responsive Indigenous education

Kūlaniākea is decolonizing and reimagining Indigenous Education in order to address socio-economic disparities among Native Hawaiians.

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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional insights gathered from Beneficiary Feedback in this field

1. We had different types of input - from phrases to full sentences, from small details to global vision. We left it as is, even though it might look fragmented, we didn't want to polish it too hard, so we don't lose the diversity of the input. 2. The tool was hard to use. It is somewhat linear, while we work within a nested model of education - child is within his/her teachers, peers, family, classroom, and community. So our map tries to capture the linearity, but accounts for our realities.

Why does the target community define this problem as urgent and/or a priority? How is the idea leveraging and empowering community assets to help create an environment for success? (1000 characters)

The urgency of our work comes from escalating disparities, current environmental challenges, and changing demographics of Native Hawaiians. Native Hawaiian children under age of 9 are the fastest growing segment of Hawaiʻi population. By 2040, the Native Hawaiian population will be predominantly under age 25 bracket. At the same time, Native elders, carriers of the language and culture, are dying younger and at the faster rate than any other ethnic group in Hawaiʻi. Our communities still have elders – Native speakers and cultural practitioners. Our coastline and historical places are not yet underwater due to the rising ocean and king tides. There is still time to leverage our cultural resources to teach children the Native worldview and scientific mindset, which supported the Great Polynesian migration and creation of multiple thriving nations across the Pacific, and can still prepare children to face future challenges (climate change, lack of resources, protection of native species).

How does the idea fit within the larger ecosystem that surrounds it? Urgent needs are usually a symptom of a larger issue that rests within multiple interrelated symptoms - share what you know about the context surrounding the problem you are aiming to solve. (500 characters)

The need for culture-based education is not a symptom. Stripping children of their cultural identity has been the root cause of many symptoms and needs (low educational attainment, higher levels of incarceration and foster care, broken families, violence, addiction, lower income, homelessness, etc.) among Native communities for centuries. Culture-based education has proven to be a protective factor, which leads to multiple/cascading positive outcomes at both individual and community levels.

How does the idea affect or change the fundamental nature of the larger ecosystem that surrounds it (as described above) in a new and/or far-reaching way? (500 characters)

As minority children are becoming the majority in the U.S., we need to recognize multilingual and multicultural approaches to support every child and every identity. The current U.S. monolingual and monoculture policies and practices result in unacceptable socio-economic disparities and massive societal burden for all of us. We need to change the norms of Indigenous and mainstream education, so we can serve all children, not only few.

What will be different within the target community as a result of implementing the idea? What is the scope and scale of that difference? How long will it take to see that difference and how will it be sustained beyond BridgeBuilder support? (500 characters)

Within the next 3 years, Kūlaniākea will graduate about 25-30 Native children, ready for any educational path. However, through its partners, we will reach over 4,000 children annually. All lesson plans, curriculum, teacher’s guide and parents’ companion of our materials will be available to general public. Kūlaniākea will change the narrative around Native education at local and national level. Our educational materials will generate income, which will be put back into the programs.

How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

Kūlaniākea has an established process for collecting user feedback on a continuous basis (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually) from parents, partner organizations, and the greater community. Time-wise, the Beneficiary Feedback Phase didn’t fit really well into the already established, organic process of feedback collection and program implementation, which accounts for community availability, academic year, and schedules of families with small children. Several modifications to the program have already been planned and announced for the next academic year, which took months of community discussion and coordination. Plus, Kūlaniākea was in the last two weeks of its summer session. Many other schools are already on break. Families are on vacation or have other commitments. Not many people could participate in discussions. Overall, our community reconfirmed that our work is critical and no immediate changes are necessary.

What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (You can attach a timeline or GANTT chart in place of a written plan, if desired.) (1000 characters)

Our work schedule doesn’t have a dependency on completion of certain tasks before moving to another. Our process is reflective of our work environment and yearly academic schedule – gradual and continuous learning for both children and adults. All activities are broken into smaller tasks in order to have a rapid implementation and evaluation cycle. 1. Curriculum and material development – the program staff prepares lesson plans and necessary materials during a school break in July. However, the staff continuously develops, adjusts, and modifies all lesson plans and materials during a school year, based on how the children progress along the curriculum. Such process supports individual and group learning. 2. Professional development –The teaching staff takes college-level courses when they are available. Kūlaniākea also organizes cultural workshops on a quarterly basis, based on the content, needed for that particular year. In-house observations and trainings happen bi-weekly.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (Feel free to share an organizational chart or visual description of your team). (500 characters)

Ms. Robins, Executive Director, has over 25 years of experience in Native Hawaiian early childhood education. She is a Native Hawaiian speaker with an extensive understanding of language learning across different ages and abilities. She is responsible for overseeing all programmatic activities. Ms. Nguyen, COO, is a Kazakh (tribe Argyn, line Toka, Middle Horde). She oversees all operations. The teaching staff has 13 years of combined experience working in the classroom with children under 5.

What aspects of the idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (500 characters)

The funds will support professional development for teachers and development of educational materials. As our teachers gain more cultural insight from Native practitioners, they will be able to develop more culturally-appropriate lesson plans and educational materials and provide a higher quality educational process to the students. These elements are important for the organizational long-term sustainability.

In preparation for our Expert Feedback Phase: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in your project? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea and needs.

Our current focus is on developing educational materials, apps, books, etc. for ourselves and our partners. We are committed to elevating local talents, artists, and community members. We welcome feedback and input. However, please be cognizant that this is a Native-led project, based on the cultural knowledge and practices. Our experience with experts has been mixed - many of them come from a different worldview and tend to perpetuate the colonial narrative, without consciously realizing it. The majority of the contemporary methods, techniques, and strategies are not ethically and culturally appropriate for us, as they are based on the deficit-based approaches (take away resources from Indigenous communities around the world; use non-Native suppliers and manufacturers; outsource to countries, where child labor is common, etc.). If you have an expert, who is Indigenous/Native and has worked within a culture-based environment, we will be very happy to connect! If you don't have such an expert, please consider expanding your circle of experts.

Final Updates (*Please do not complete until we reach the Improve Phase*): How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

We have been working on refining our work plan for our proposed activities: • Educational Materials - Since the initial submission, our team has mapped out educational materials into a cohesive plan. The organization is currently working with a Native Artist, whose artwork will be used for some of the materials. The ED also established contacts with several craftsmen in Hawaiʻi, who can manufacture puzzles and other wooden items to our specs. Several educational organizations also approached us to pilot-test our curriculum and materials and partner on future projects. • Professional Development – our teaching staff has enrolled in college-level course. The staff also discussed which cultural practitioners the team needs to work on this year and when we can have workshops/trainings with them. Overall, our parents and parners were happy to hear about all changes and advancement.

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.

What came through the comments on the platform is that people identified us with the narrative change and change in the power structure (“ change the mindset”, “uplift the indigenous wisdom into mainstream consciousness”, etc.). Narrative and power change has always been integral to our work. However, we have never perceived it as our main activity. We actually do it regularly through our interactions with both Native and non-Native organizations and systems. In the last few years we have seen an increase in requests from non-Native educators and organizations in the effort to present the U.S. history in a historically accurate, honest, and transparent way. The world is starting to recognize the role of Native/Indigenous people as protectors of environment, e.g. Standing Rock, Mauna Kea, Bears Ears, environmental refugees crisis throughout the Pacific Rim. We are continuously refining our own storytelling - the value of Native peoples in the history, arts, environment, and culture; transferability and applicability of our work to non-Native education; Native leadership and excellency, and ways we all can change the narrative and systems for our children in an honest and transparent way. It has been easier to connect to people, with whom we share values - respect for family and elders; responsibility to care for the land; and an obligation to do right by the next generation. There is no lack of interest or desire to improve both mainstream and Native educational systems. However, there are many barriers to full integration and implementation, mostly, lack of time, resources, and support for teachers. Kūlaniākea has already started woking on systemic barriers - we consult on narrative change and grassroots network building (Ashoka/Robert Woods Johnson Foundation) and educational processes change/integrated curriculum development (Chaminade University, Hawaii State Department of Education). The staff had a discussion how we should articulate our consulting capacity, especially to other educators and organizations, who are ready to deliver equitable education to children of all cultures and backgrounds. We do not know all the answers, but we can help them bridge the past and present, individuals (children, parents) and communities, different cultures, languages, and geographies, traditional and modern, abstract knowledge to practical implementation.

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

For many cultural and historical reasons, mainstream education hasn’t served Indigenous children and families well. The Western-style education and forced assimilation also resulted in the loss of Native Hawaiian language, culture, and, most importantly, traditional systems, that ensured thriving Native communities. Kūlaniākea is building a holistic model, which honors every child, family, and community. Our culturally responsive, strength-based, and child-centered model of early childhood education ensures that infrastructure, workforce, pedagogical materials, and curricula meet unique needs of Native families, teachers, learners, and communities. Our bottom-up approach not only delivers culture-appropriate educational services to most vulnerable children, but also builds communities around them for a long-term success. CHILDREN: Kūlnaiākea is creating and implementing a bilingual Hawaiian-English STEM program for children from 2 to 6 years old. Our approach bridges the Hawaiian and English languages and traditional and Western STEM. PARENTS & FAMILIES: Integration of family is an underlying value of the Native Hawaiian education. Not every parent is language and STEM proficient. We provide our parents with tools and knowledge to become the best role models for their children. TEACHERS: Kūlnaiākea provides professional development opportunities to teachers in order to address the unique needs of students within the context of Native Hawaiian culture, language, and traditions, Native and Western STEM, and bilingualism.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our main beneficiaries are Native Hawaiian preschool-aged children and their families. Compared to other ethnic groups in Hawaii, they score lower on math and reading in 4th and 8th grades, are less likely to continue their education beyond high school, earn less than the state average, and are more likely to be unemployed, in poverty, or incarcerated. In what becomes a vicious cycle, parental income is a strong predictor of a child’s lifespan, health, and educational achievements. Currently, our lab preschool serves 14 children, 2 to 6-year-old, and their parents/families. 80% of the children are Native Hawaiian, and 70% are from low-income families and the rest are from financially insecure households. Our families are representative of and typical for our district – they work full-time, long hours, and more than one job; some are single-parent households, and many of them take care of their elders and children at the same time (multigenerational households).

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

One of the major issues for Native Hawaiians is the opposition between the traditional and Western education - Native Hawaiian science culture vs. modern STEM. Hawaii’s students historically study mainstream, textbook-based science, but do not learn about Native Hawaiian science practices – navigation by stars, building canoes and voyaging, Native Hawaiian agricultural and ethno-botanical practices, traditional medicine, solar and lunar calendars, and its relationship to ocean, winds, and stars. Such disconnects serve to perpetuate the under-representation of these students in the STEM pipeline. Our approach is a result of the staff’s experience, and extensive academic and applied research on early education, literacy, bilingualism, and curriculum development. A rigorous STEM + literacy culture-based dual language curriculum is an innovative way to break silos between cultures and content areas. Currently no other school in Hawai’i is providing this option to Native families.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Majority Adoption: I have expanded the pilot significantly and the program product or service has been adopted by the majority of our intended user base.
  • Full Scale Roll Out: I have already tested and scaled this idea significantly with the intended user base.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Kūlaniākea,, is a Native Hawaiian-serving and Native-managed non-profit organization, whose mission is to advance Indigenous education. Kūlaniākea serves Native Hawaiian communities through multi-generational dual language educational programs.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

In the 1980s our Executive Director, Wailani Robins, had her daughter and realized that there was no culturally-responsive and academically-rigorous education for Native Hawaiian children. She left her accounting job and started working as a Teacher Assistant in a Hawaiian language immersion school. Since then, she became a highly respected educator and community leader. She has worked on different aspects of Kūlaniākea’s approach for over 25 years.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Traditionally the Native Hawaiians operated within the context of families, geography, greater community - all of which provided for a deep grounding in the sense of identity, connections, and purpose (PEACE). People derived agricultural and aquacultural products, while ensuring environmental balance (PROSPERITY & PLANET). Colonization and systematic racism broke down many systems, decimating the culture and resulting in generational poverty, fragmentation of families, and health disparities. Destroying the traditional way of living resulted in dependency on imported foods, great environmental damages to the Islands, and extinction of Native species. Kūlaniākea is applying centuries-old, tried and proven, cultural knowledge to the modern day problems. It’s bridging the traditional and contemporary in order to strengthen our community in their culture, which carries the knowledge of PEACE, PROSPERITY, & PLANET, specific and relevant to the Hawaiian Islands and its people.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Our main community - children and parents of the school. Our families are active contributors and participants in providing quality programming for all stakeholders. Kūlaniākea also actively collaborates with cultural practitioners, non-profits (Papahana Kuaola, Kanehunamoku), and educational organizations, from preschools to schools (immersion schools and Hawaii State DOE schools), to universities (University of Hawaii, Chaminade University of Honolulu), in our geographic area in order to create reciprocal learning communities and provide our children and their families with formal and informal opportunities (taro patch, fish pond, voyaging canoe, etc.). We share resources (lesson plans, materials), take our children on whole day excursion to taro patches and ocean, organize cultural workshops, led by Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners. As a member of the community we support other Native Hawaiian organizations in our district and include them into our events.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

In 2015 families with children came together to discuss their challenges as Native parents, whose language and culture are at risk of disappearing. As a result, members of that conversation formed Kūlaniākea. Our organization has been formed and is operating bottom-up – the people, most affected by challenges, are the people implementing solutions. Because of it, our community found space for our preschool; they provide us with resources, attend our events, and fundraise.

Geographic Focus

Kaneohe, O'ahu, Hawai'i

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

up to 36 months.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

If Yes, how has project idea changed, grown, or evolved since last year? (2,000 characters)



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