COVID, Community, and Connections

February 9, 2021

By: Erin Medeiros, NBCT

Twenty rectangles appear. First Kylee, in double French braids and her lashes. Then Tapa, outside working on a lei for his project. Eden is by her bed, and Gardenia sits with her back against the white wall. Lili chats that she just got up and that Lei is with her. Lele sits with the toddlers on the recliner. Sela is at a desk looking like a boss. 

These are just a few of today’s mix of our 9-12th grade students. It is the end of January. We are approaching a year since we replaced the hum of our traditional classrooms with the pings, dings, and rattles of the keyboard. But we are not lost. We are not failing. We are not behind. 

This year, we are more connected, not only as a classroom of learners, but also with our broader community. We planned this year with the intention to do better than we had done last year and the year before. With the intention to start strong and remain consistent. And, most of all, to keep our kids connected to our school’s mission, their families, and our community. It’s working, and one invaluable piece is the interview students conduct and share each quarter. 

Today, students have logged on to share their interview summaries. This is one of four pieces in their place-based quarter projects. The interview component is simple: we work with students to develop strong questions, reach out to adults, and summarize the learning process. Students choose to interview family members, teachers, neighbors, and other community members.

Students have selected a number to determine the order of the readings. If they are nervous, I can’t tell. They’ve been presenting their projects each quarter, all year, and they are here to hear each other’s stories, to learn from peers and the community around them. This time they are addressing the essential question “What Hawaiian knowledge should I possess and perpetuate about my ahupuaʻa or one I consider as my piko on Kaua’i?” Here are just a few of the stories that came out:

Kaʻula: “Her parents’ love story was like Romeo & Juliet: Mama’s Kama’i ‘ohana lived in Pali’uli and Papa’s Kani ‘ohana lived in Makaweli valley. Both families hated each other, but that didn’t stop her father from sneaking out to be with her mother. They met every night on the mountain that separated families, it was called Kanekula.” 

Makana: “Kapa’a is my piko, because this is where I call my home, and where my ʻohana has sprouted their roots. I will continue to learn about my family history and genealogy, and practice what I have learned so that I can teach my siblings and those after me about where they come from and why it’s important to know that, because if it wasn’t for those who came before us, there wouldn’t be an us.”

Sela: “Spending time with my grandma has strengthened my connection with my community and school because now I know how Anahola used to be and life in the past compared to life now. I can see the changes for a better future for Anahola. She has strengthened the connection to my life goals because it inspired me to always stay strong no matter what I go through in life. When life gets hard to keep pushing and reaching for the highest and not get distracted.”

Kapili: “My brother honestly has been my backbone for a really long time because I could count on him to toughen me up and get me ready for life. One very important lesson I learned from him that I took to heart is ‘Don’t go through life wishing you did this. You’re young, so find what you want to do and do it.’” 

Lele: “I think that the reason she made me a stronger person in my community is because, even though she was going through probably one of the most difficult times in her life, she was still there for me, and I love that she did it.  That’s why the ‘ōlelo no’eau that I chose for her is ‘Ua ola loko i ke aloha’ – Love gives life within.  If you know or are related to Grandma Pa or Tutumama you know that they always show love and affection to everyone in everything she does. I was really happy that I was able to talk to her.”

Gardenia: “Kumu has many stories, and she related her own personal stories to Hanalei and connected it to our community saying that Hanalei wouldn’t be Hanalei without the people. She shared a story about a peaceful protest to stop boats from coming into Hanalei beach, and when I heard about that it made me want to kū haʻaheo for my community and what I believe in to aloha the ʻāina. At school we always talk about perpetuating our culture and standing up for our ʻāina, and community is part of that. I am very inspired by that and our Hawaiian culture, and that’s why I will be going into college for Hawaiian Studies to learn more about our kānaka and lāhui.”

While it is true that 2020 was different, it certainly was not the end of something perfect in education. In fact, for us, it was the crisis we needed to change and do better to live up to our school’s mission. There are solutions for every problem, and for us the quarterly interview has not only addressed a need for community connections, but has also strengthened our students’ speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills. And our interdisciplinary team can attest to the fact that this is something meaningful and versatile that any teacher can integrate into their classroom, regardless of the grade level, subject area or topic, and whether they are learning in person or online. 

After the 20 faces and icons disappeared from the screen this morning, I stayed on with my co-teachers so we could smile and celebrate and share the pride we feel for our kids and their work and their growth. Nothing they learned through their interviews could have come from us standing in front of the classroom and delivering our lessons of the old days. The most important lessons are the ones beyond our classroom doors anyway. As one of our seniors concluded: “Ask your elders before it’s too late, because they are the keepers of sacred knowledge.”

Erin Medeiros, NBCT

Erin Medeiros teaches high school students at Kanuikapono PCS, a K–12 Hawaiian-focused charter school in Anahola on the island of Kauaʻi, Hawaiʻi. She is a National Board certified English language arts and social studies teacher. She served as a Merwin Creative Teaching Fellow in 2018-19 and a Hawaiʻi State Teacher Fellow in 2016-18. Erin loves learning, living, hiking, and exploring on Kauaʻi with her husband and two daughters.