LAHAINA - Kindergarten public school registration for the 2012-13 school year is slated in mid-February, and parents on the West Side have three choices.
King Kamehameha III Elementary School in the heart of Lahaina is available to students residing makai or mauka of Honoapiilani Highway from Lahaina to Honokohau.
Princess Nahi'ena'ena Elementary School serves mostly the families living in the community up Lahainaluna Road.
The third option, the Hawaiian Language Immersion Program (HLIP), is the path less traveled but offers the youth of West Maui a treasured opportunity.
"We want to remind people that we're here," Kumu Liko Rogers commented.
Open to all West Side youth entering kindergarten, Kula Kaipuni O Maui ma Nah'iena'ena is located on the Princess Nahi'ena'ena campus.
"Currently, we have 34 students. We have kindergarten through fourth grade this year. Next year, we'll have kindergarten through fifth grade," noted the Lahainaluna High School graduate (Class of 1987).
Ka Papahana Kaiapuni Hawaii (Hawaiian Language Immersion Program) was established by the state Department of Education in 1987 and at Princess Nahi'ena'ena in 2000.
Its mission is lofty: "To achieve quality education based on knowledge of Hawaiian language and culture as the foundation upon which individuals become culturally responsive, sensitive and productive adults who contribute significantly to all levels of Hawaii's community and the world."
Language immersion is a method of teaching. Regular school curriculum is taught through the medium of the second language. As students are immersed in the second language, they become fluent speakers at an early age.
Supporters of immersion education say linguistic and cultural knowledge is a resource; and, "The more you know, the better off you are."
Immersion programs are the fastest growing and most effective type of foreign language program currently available in U.S. schools, officials said.
Becoming bilingual opens the door to many opportunities in an increasingly interdependent world.
Additionally, a little known fact is immersion learners benefit cognitively, exhibiting greater nonverbal problem-solving abilities and more flexible thinking than their non-immersion peers.
In Hawaii, the immersion situation is unique.
Hawaii is the only state in the United States that has designated a native language as one of its two official state languages.
Culturally, the benefits are immense.
"Children, who are born and raised here in Hawaii, for them to know the Hawaiian culture and Hawaiian language is to have a sense of identity. For Hawaiians, it helps in identifying themselves with their people, of course. For all children, it helps them have a sense of place and sense of who they really are, and where they are from, the culture and the language. It gives a different perspective on life," Kumu Rogers said.
Kumu Kauna'oa Ka'aikala teaches second, third and fourth grade at Princess. She is currently on maternity leave.
She is a passionate advocate of the program.
"This Hawaiian language immersion program is culturally important, because the language and culture is vital and interdependent. The language cannot flourish and develop without the culture," she said.
"Another reason why this program is so important is that the success and future of the Hawaiian culture and language lies within our keiki. They will become the future leaders and stakeholders of our culture and language," Kumu Kauna'oa added.
Brandon and Tiara Ueki have two children enrolled in the program.
Tiara works for Jerry Kunitomo at Lahaina Pizza Company, and Brandon is a teacher at King Kamehameha III Elementary School.
Tiara is the president of Na Leo Kalele (parent group)
"We had heard about the Hawaiian Immersion Program from my dad. We were a little hesitant at the beginning, just because it was strictly olelo (language). After thinking about it, we felt that it was not only important for them to learn the culture through language, but it was our responsibility to be able to give them that opportunity," Tiara said.
Puliki Rogers, Kumu Rogers' daughter, is a second-grader.
Her mom, Sissy, has seen her daughter blossom from the experience.
"She has been grounded in her cultural identity, participates in conserving and preserving the land and all natural environments and a very important factor is communicating in the Hawaiian language," she said.
Monica and Keoki Lindsey have enrolled their two sons in the program. Monica previously home schooled.
"I decided on the switch from home schooling to Kula Kaiapuni, because I felt confident with the teacher, Kumu Liko, and the close knit program. I love being involved with my children's learning and school life," she said.
"Of course, I love that they are learning more about their culture and heritage; they are my teachers!"
Historically, Lahaina is rare.
When the doors at Lahainaluna, the oldest public school west of the Rockies, opened in 1831, the language of instruction was Hawaiian.
"We need to bring that back," Kumu Rogers advised.
"Na Leo Kalele is driven to make this program strive," its president adamantly stressed. "Not only will we promote and push for this program to stay strong, but we will reach beyond elementary and see our children go to Lahaina Intermediate and Lahainaluna."
The Princess Nahi'ena'ena school community supports the growth of the immersion program and embraces this philosophy: "E ola ka 'olelo Hawai'i (the Hawaiian language shall live).
Kula Kaipuni O Maui ma Nah'iena'ena is open to keiki of all ethnicities.
Registration for kindergarten at Princess Nahi'ena'ena will be held from Feb. 14-17 between the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.Visit www.k12.hi.us/~kaiapuni/ for more information.