WAIKOLOA BEACH RESORT — The ballroom at the Hilton Waikoloa Village was filled Friday with an energy that could only come from nearly 500 keiki performing for family and friends.
And perform they did.
This ho‘ike was the culmination of a four-week Aloha MAP (Meritorious Achievement Program) Summer Enrichment Program. The chants, dance and songs they learned were performed to rousing ovation.
Students from kindergarten through 12th grade spent the past month experiencing the island, learning the Hawaiian culture and language through chant and hula, STEM education, and the meaning of living aloha.
“We keep them busy, they’re constantly moving,” said Aloha MAP founder Lilinoi Grace.
Grace has had a vision of this program since her reign as 2004 Miss Kona Coffee.
Last year, she secured a three-year, $2.4 million grant from the Native Hawaiian Education Program through the U.S. Department of Education. Aloha MAP at Kealakehe High School was born.
This year, she received an Opportunities for Learning and Achievement grant and was able to expand the program to include Konawaena, effectively doubling the enrollment from last year.
“I’m so excited to finally be able to serve my alma mater,” said Grace, a 1999 Konawaena graduate.
The grants also ensure the program is provided to parents at no charge.
Grace, a former Miss Kona Coffee and Chaminade University graduate, developed the hands-on curriculum incorporating math, science, reading comprehension, and Hawaiian culture. The students took part in the program Monday through Friday.
Aloha is at the core of the program. Their day starts at 7:30 a.m. with an aloha circle where affirmations set the mood.
“Aloha MAP is a special ohana where everyone thinks with aloha, speaks with aloha, lives with aloha. It is my kuleana to do so as well,” the children recite daily.
From there it was a flurry of activity — from learning chants and hula from Kumu Aloha Victor to traditional fishing methods from Uncle Chucky Leslie, the children had so much fun they didn’t realize how much they were learning. They also were fed breakfast and lunch.
Field trips to Atlantis, Body Glove, Dolphin Quest, KBXtreme and Imiloa, as well as college and career trips with high school students, kept the kids engaged.
Allan Silva teaches Aloha Social-Emotional Learning statewide. He met Grace more than 10 years ago and became her mentor after she shared her vision of a true spirit of aloha in an academic and cultural curriculum.
Silva said he challenges kids, teaching them that attitude is about choices.
“Positive choices have opportunities in creating excellent success,” said Silva, stressing the children make choices in the spirit of aloha.
That philosophy appeared to work as almost 500 kids stood quietly when told to and performed at a level far beyond four weeks of practice. Keiki performed their hearts out, proudly showing off what they learned on summer vacation.
In front of beaming family, keiki exuberantly responded in unison to the cadence, “I am strong. I am loved. I am wanted. I am positive. I am awesome. I am able. I am powerful. I am the future.”