HILO, Hawaii — An immersion school on the Big Island is turning out bilingual students and wants to add more languages.

Ke Kula ‘o Nawahiokalani’opu’u, or Nawahi, is a Hawaiian language immersion school in Keaau, where students are instructed entirely in Hawaiian through fifth-grade, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported (http://bit.ly/2xvqK3T ) Tuesday.

Nawahi aims for its students’ written and spoken English proficiency to be on par with that of their peers in English-language schools by graduation. The school teaches Hawaiian, English, Japanese and Latin and wants to add Chinese, Portuguese, Tagalog or Ilocano, said William Wilson, a Nawahi board member and a University of Hawaii at Hilo faculty member.

It is the largest Hawaiian immersion school on the island and among the largest in the state, Wilson said.

Last month, 12 Nawahi seniors were among the first recipients of the state Department of Education’s Seal of Biliteracy award. The seal is awarded to graduating seniors who demonstrate high proficiency in the state’s two official languages. It’s also awarded to students who demonstrate proficiency in either of the state’s two official languages and at least one additional language.

The 12 Nawahi students constituted the “largest group of awardees from a single high school,” Wilson said.

The vast majority of Nawahi students are of Hawaiian descent. About one-third speak Hawaiian regularly at home. Every person at the campus speaks Hawaiian, which also is the administrative language used in the school’s official staff meetings.

Nawahi enrollment has steadily increased in recent years. The school thinks that enrollment growth demonstrates increasing support from the community as well as for the Hawaiian language to be “developed as a home language again,” said Kauanoe Kamana, Nawahi’s school director.

Nawahi eventually would like to expand its language offerings into high school grades as electives, Wilson said.


Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/