Aloha, Keonepoko

Keonepoko Elementary became the first public school to close as a result of the June 27 lava flow.


Keonepoko Elementary became the first public school to close as a result of the June 27 lava flow.

As the flow continued its advance, students and staff gathered for one final assembly Tuesday to bid farewell to the 23-year-old school and help keiki with the transition, said Principal Brandon Gallagher.

“We left on high spirits,” he said.

The approximately 620 students will be split up between the Pahoa and Keaau campuses. Gallagher said they will resume classes at those locations Nov. 10.

Some Pahoa secondary students also will be attending school in Keaau.

Classes will be temporarily cancelled beginning Thursday at Pahoa High &Intermediate, Pahoa Elementary, Keaau High and Keaau Middle schools to prepare for the transition.

Gallagher said the assembly ended with a mele led by teachers in the Native Hawaiian cultural program. Students also left their own messages to the school and Madame Pele on red pieces of paper they tied to the fence outside the parking lot.

“The things that came out (at the assembly) were just what you are seeing down here, very positive and loving,” he said.

Rosalina Bareng, a kupuna in the school’s Native Hawaiian cultural program, said students were encouraged to draw or write whatever message they wanted to leave behind.

“Our school means a lot to us and it would be terrible to have to leave our school,” one student wrote in a message to Pele. “It would mean so much to us if you guided the lava out of our path.”

Red paper was chosen for a reason. Bareng explained Princess Ruth Ke‘elikolani offered red cloth, among other items, to Pele when lava threatened Hilo in the 1800s.

As the story goes, Pele then stopped her advance.

Bareng said the stories have helped the students deal with the disaster.

“They are more relaxed and accepting of what’s happening,” she said.

“Lava has been a myth of Hawaiian people throughout our history … Hawaii is the only place where people run toward the lava instead of run away from the volcano,” Bareng added.

Bareng and kumu Kenny Elliott said they also were building an ahu with students and other staff to leave behind.

“Everything happened so fast,” Elliott said. “We are going to come in and finish it hopefully by Friday.”

The Hawaii Academy of Arts and Sciences, located off Highway 130 near the flow’s path, also is preparing for the lava’s arrival.

Steve Hirakami, school director, said the public charter school will close today, Thursday and Friday as staff work to secure new locations for students, who also will be split on north and south sides of the flow.

He said students have been handling the situation well.

“They are doing really good,” Hirakami said. “They are really positive. We had a real nice assembly yesterday, and they really rallied.”

HAAS students already had a role with preparing for the lava flow, he said.


Hirakami said students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics program provided the initial design for the barrier Hawaii Electric Light Co. used to try to protect their poles from lava.

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