Updated: December 6, 2023
Lahaina’s two elementary schools reopened to hundreds of students today on a shared campus that faculty and staff from both schools have worked hard to make as inviting and familiar as possible for their communities impacted by the August wildfires.
The King Kamehameha III Elementary campus – which had been located along Front Street and was lost to the fires – is sharing the Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena Elementary campus, utilizing a mixture of tent structures and traditional classroom spaces.
Approximately 300 students from Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena returned to campus alongside more than 200 students from King Kamehameha III.
The two elementary schools are the last of the Lahaina campuses to physically reopen this week; Lahainaluna welcomed its students back on Monday and Lahaina Intermediate reopened its campus Tuesday.
“We have really been working toward this day for a whole quarter and it’s finally arrived,” said Hāna-Lahainaluna-Lānaʻi-Molokaʻi Complex Area Superintendent Rebecca Winkie. “Now we’re going to get back to a sense of normalcy. The kids can learn and have their supports on campus and just the socialization and being with their peers, I think, is going to make all the difference.”
About a dozen staff and community members, including ones dressed as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, lined the entrance of the campus with signs and cheered parents dropping off students. Both principals helped to direct traffic and assist students with check-in.
“Although we’re two different schools on one campus, we are one community, and that’s the most important thing. … Our teachers have welcomed them, our staff has welcomed them, and for those from King Kamehameha III – welcome home,” said Gary Kanamori, Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena Elementary principal.
Ian Haskins recently joined King Kamehameha III as principal, bringing with him over two decades of teaching and administrative experience in Hawai‘i, most recently as vice principal at Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena.
“This morning went very smoothly, the parents had smiles on their faces, the kids were ecstatic to be here and we had lots of faculty and staff to receive them, get them enrolled in their classes and get them where they need to be,” Haskins said. “The classes were set up very well for temporary classrooms and I believe we’re going to get through this.”
The school day started off with students from both schools checking in and receiving name tags and lining up by grade level and classroom. There was an orientation for kindergarteners and their parents to help familiarize new ones with school. Each school performed a morning ʻoli, or chant, on their respective sides of the campus.
Parents like Victor Akauʻola, father of a kindergartener and first grader at Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena, were excited to bring their children to campus for the first day of school. “The continued normalcy is what the kids need,” he said. “They need that to get their minds off of things. This is part of the growth of a community.”
On the east side of the Nāhiʻenaʻena campus, eight high-quality tent structures have been installed in an open field to add classroom spaces for King Kamehameha III students, which are all equipped with power, air conditioning and laminate floors.
Grades K-1 are in classrooms on the Nāhi‘ena‘ena campus while grades 2-5 are in the structures.
Twelve portable toilets, each with individual air conditioning units, and chilled water stations have also been added to the temporary shared site.
The state Department of Health and the US EPA installed air quality monitors outside all of the schools to detect fine particulate matter and the HIDOE is performing bi-weekly wipe sampling in classrooms to test for any particles settling on surfaces.
The Department has also developed health and safety guidance with the DOH that outlines actions the schools will take whenever there are changes in the air quality.
“I’m just looking forward to going back to routine and I hope we’re there,” Winkie said.
King Kamehameha III is expected to operate out of the interim site until a temporary campus being built at Pulelehua near Kapalua Airport opens.