Our Islands, Our Future

Maui Economic Development Board’s (MEDB) Ke Alahele Education Fund grantee, Kihei Charter High School, used their funding for a school-year long class that combined current and ancient Hawaiian navigation and science skills. “The project enhanced awareness of viable STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) careers and opportunities by exposing students to a variety of scientific fields,” said Ellen Federoff, Kihei Charter Hawaiian Studies instructor. “Through weekly, hands-on experiences, our students learned both the history and current importance of celestial navigation, meteorology, and marine biology, as well as proficiency in the mathematics needed to use a sextant to navigate.”

Kihei Charter partnered with several local kupuna and Hui o Wa’a Kaulua, a nonprofit that perpetuates and educates the community on Hawaiian studies, canoe building, and wayfinding. The traditional voyaging canoe, Mo’okiha o Pi’ilani, served as the living classroom for the project− providing opportunity for the students to apply what they’re learning.

“Some of our students participated in a four-day program over Spring Break where they learned even more in-depth skills and spent time sailing on the authentic Hawaiian double-hull canoe,” said Federoff. “The students successfully integrated both ancient and current practices to navigate on the ocean, while learning the meaning of seamanship. They also studied the Hawaiian night sky, the ocean currents, the seabirds, sea animals, and the cloud formations.”

Eleventh grader Jonathan Atkinson spent Spring Break on the Mo’okina o Pi’ilani. “The canoe is designed to look like an ancient Polynesian vessel,” he explained. “We learned about celestial navigation and how to keep track of where we’re going by reading the stars. Additionally, I experienced what it’s like to be part of a true ‘ohana, making me feel more connected to the ‘aina with a deeper understanding and respect for where we are.”

Jaden Binning, 10th grader, said, “I learned that the ancient traditions were simple. They didn’t need modern instruments to find their way across the ocean.” Agreeing, Kody Izak, 10th grader, added, “We were taught how to use our hands to find our way and the distance travelled. This was an amazing experience. Thanks MEDB!”

The annual Ke Alahele Fund Benefit Dinner & Auction, will be held on Saturday, August 31, 2019 at the Wailea Beach Resort-Maui Marriott. For reservations, visit

I appreciate how MEDB, through their Ke Alahele Education Fund, supports the perpetuation of the Hawaiian culture and sciences.

Ellen Federoff, Kihei Charter Hawaiian Studies Instructor