- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 3, 2014

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) - A preschool that educates children in the Hawaiian language is celebrating 20 years in West Hawaii.

Punana Leo o Kona opened in 1994 in a two-story house in Holualoa. Now housed on the grounds of Christ Church Episcopal in Kealakekua, the preschool accepts 15 students a year.

The preschoolers are prepared for kindergarten while becoming fluent in Hawaiian. Nearly all of the school’s 3- to 5-year-old children are fully fluent within three to four months.

Student Kilipohi Faanunu-Soares recently demonstrated her language skills by introducing herself - her name, age, who her parents are and where she’s from - in Hawaiian.

Enrollment is not limited to those of Native Hawaiian ancestry, and the school has served more than 200 families over the years. Tuition costs $7,425 a year.



The school is one of 11 statewide operated by Aha Punana Leo Inc., which led a movement to remove a ban in 1986 on teaching Hawaiian language in public schools. For 90 years, it was illegal to teach in public school through the medium of Hawaiian language.

Punana Leo o Kona is celebrating its anniversary with a fundraiser banquet on Saturday, West Hawaii Today reported (https://ow.ly/xA9w1 ).

“Our greatest accomplishment over the past 20 years are the numerous children who have graduated from our program and become successful individuals who are contributing in their communities,” Director Kawaiola Johnson said. “They’re speaking Hawaiian, perpetuating it and creating a presence.”

She also counts as assets the school’s supporters and staff, who “are like one big family.”

“All are passionate, committed to and united in a love of our language,” Johnson said.

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Information from: West Hawaii Today, https://www.westhawaiitoday.com

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