'Old Hawaiian' Life Fading with Loss of Maui School

School bus. Credit: Neenah Ellis. i i

The children of Ke'anae now must ride the bus for an hour to get to school. Their one-room school was closed so that its teacher could be reassigned to a larger school that is struggling with federal education standards. hide caption

itoggle caption
School bus. Credit: Neenah Ellis.

The children of Ke'anae now must ride the bus for an hour to get to school. Their one-room school was closed so that its teacher could be reassigned to a larger school that is struggling with federal education standards.

Hawaii map. Ke'anae is on the island of Maui. i i

Ke'anae is on the famously coast-hugging Hana Road. Although the village of Ke'anae is quite small, the island of Maui has a total population of 117,000. hide caption

itoggle caption
Hawaii map. Ke'anae is on the island of Maui.

Ke'anae is on the famously coast-hugging Hana Road. Although the village of Ke'anae is quite small, the island of Maui has a total population of 117,000.

The school. Credit: Neenah Ellis. i i

Losing the school, say some residents, is the last thing Ke'anae needs as it struggles to keep its Hawaiian identity and attract economic development. hide caption

itoggle caption
The school. Credit: Neenah Ellis.

Losing the school, say some residents, is the last thing Ke'anae needs as it struggles to keep its Hawaiian identity and attract economic development.

The last one-room school in the state of Hawaii closed just a few weeks before the school year began. The village of Ke'anae, on the north coast of Maui, had its own school for 96 years. Now village children travel an hour by bus to the town of Hana.

Many residents of Ke'anae were surprised when the closure was announced in fall 2005, although the move had been discussed at community meetings for a year.

Ke'anae is a sleepy village in the tropical rain forest of east Maui. Most who live there are native Hawaiian. Family ties and Hawaiian cultural traditions are strong, and land ownership goes back many generations. Many people grow taro, a root crop brought to the islands by the Polynesians. Poi, a staple of the Hawaiian diet, is made from taro.

Ke'anae is an unusual place in modern Hawaii. It's a symbol to many people of "the old Hawaiian style" of life, where natives were able to live off the land. That's no longer possible in Ke'anae. Most people drive to west Maui, more than an hour away, to find work.

There also is a generation gap in Ke'anae. There are many older people and some younger ones. But people in their 30s and 40s have found reasons to take their families and leave. Only now are some in that age group beginning to return.

Some residents say losing the school is the last thing Ke'anae needs as it struggles to keep its Hawaiian identity and attract economic development.

Principal Rick Paul closed the school because the other school under his direction, the Hana School, has failed for six years to meet federal No Child Left Behind targets. Paul moved the Ke'anae children to Hana in order to add Ke'anae's teaching position to Hana.

"A community without a school is not a community," Janet Redo said. She grew up in Ke'anae and her grandchildren were among the school's last students. "My father always told me, 'Whatever you do, fight for the school to remain open.'"

Redo and a handful of Ke'anae villagers say they will work to revive the school. There is also talk of starting a charter school. But other one-room schools on Maui have closed, never to reopen.

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