LAHAINA - Lahainaluna High School, founded in 1831, has a legacy of 'olelo Hawaii.
Until 1877, the language of instruction at the historic high school was Hawaiian.
It's been over 135 years, and the crusade to reestablish the Hawaiian language at Lahainaluna continues and is one grade closer to that goal this year.
"We're celebrating," Kumu Liko Rogers announced. "The big news is that this year, we're keeping our sixth-graders here. Next year, sixth- and seventh-graders will go to Lahaina Intermediate. The following year, we're looking to expand a position to Lahainaluna."
It's been an uphill challenge.
It took the passage of House Bill 1288 on Oahu to bring the Hawaiian Language Immersion Program closer to home at Princess Nahi'ena'ena Elementary School, with the opening of the first kindergarten classroom at Kula Kaiapuni O Maui Ma Nahi'ena'ena in 2000.
Since then, growing the program has been a series of stops and starts, but the objective has always been in sight.
"Lahainaluna was the original Hawaiian immersion school," Kumu Rogers ex-plained.
"For us - those involved in the language on the West Side - to return that tradition of Hawaiian language education to Lahainaluna has been the greater goal," the kindergarten teacher added.
Until this year, the target has been elusive.
"Several years back," the Lahainaluna Class of '87 graduate recalled, "we had actually opened Lahaina Intermediate as a site for Hawaiian immersion students, and a handful of students went up there.
"There was a teacher for one year. The following year, for some reason, the position was taken away; it went to Kalama (Intermediate) School, which also has an Hawaiian immersion program. The children from Lahaina were bussed Upcountry to that school, and that has gone on for many years."
Bussing the kids to the other side was a roadblock to enrollment.
Rogers is a parent as well as a kumu. His daughter is entering the fourth grade.
"We want to keep our kids from Lahaina in Lahaina and keep them educated in Hawaiian immersion in Lahaina; so, as a first step to doing that, we are keeping the sixth-graders here this year, and they will be educated at Princess Nahi'ena'ena in the Hawaiian immersion program.
Richard Agdeppa, Lahainaluna Class of '93, has three keiki in the program. His eldest graduated from the fifth grade in May.
When he heard a classroom opened for sixth-graders at Princess, he was "hauoli nui" (very happy).
Agdeppa is passionate about his connection to his alma mater and his hometown.
"Our whole family graduated from Lahainaluna; my kids are gonna graduate from Lahainaluna... If they didn't open the sixth grade this year, I really had a thought of keeping my daughter in intermediate and just struggling with it until we figure out something, because I don't want my kid to travel to another school when we have facilities here."
"Lahaina has a deeper Hawaiian history than people really know," Agdeppa remarked.
Rogers attributed the expansion of the program this year to an action-oriented parent group, Na Leo Kalele.
According to Rogers, they've been recruiting students, and enrollment has increased, with over 70 immersion students projected on campus at Princess this year, including the added sixth grade classroom.
"They are helping to revitalize the program," Kumu Liko said.
According to Rogers, "there are currently meetings going on with the parents, District Superintendent Lindsey Ball and the principals in the complex that would be involved in the implementation of Hawaiian immersion in the schools," including Lynn Kaho'ohalahala (Princess Nahi'ena'ena), Marsha Nakamura (Lahaina Intermediate) and Emily De Costa (Lahainaluna).
The parents have a strategy.
"Once we lock in the seventh and eighth grade, I am pretty sure the numbers are gonna grow; then next, Lahainaluna," Agdeppa said.
The Hawaiian Language Immersion Program is open to all ethnicities.
From the start, the purpose of the program has been steadfast to preserve the Hawaiian culture through its language.
"He ola ka 'olelo Hawai'i (the Hawaiian language shall live)," reads the banner at Princess Nahi'ena'ena School.