ʻAha Pūnana Leo was formed in 1983 to reestablish and develop the Hawaiian language. During the 1920’s the Hawaiian language ceased to be spoken by children when schools began mandating that the curriculum be taught only in English. Since its formation, ʻAha Pūnana Leo has been a key force in changing legislation in the state of Hawaii, and also at the federal level, to lift the bans that formerly existed regarding the use of Hawaiian in schools.
ʻAha Pūnana Leo grew out of a discussion between a small group of language teachers and families who wanted their children to be educated in the Hawaiian language. They went to the most progressive preschool programs to find out what made them successful. A few of the families made a commitment to use only Hawaiian in the home. They decided to model their program after the Maoris of New Zealand, teaching the curriculum in Hawaiian and using no English in the classroom.
At present there are eleven preschools statewide in which the Hawaiian language is spoken, and it is the Pūnana Leo families that are the key factors in the 14 public schools into which the preschoolers matriculate. In addition, there are two model schools, Nawahiokalani’opu’u on the island of Hawaii, and Ke Kula Ni’ihau o Kekaha in Kekaha on the island of Kauai. Over the past 15 years, the number of Hawaiian-speaking children has increased from 30 to nearly 2,000.