The Growing Pono Schools Project’s


Mahalo nui loa for your interest in the GPS Life Skills Curriculum, created especially for students from Hawai‘i. With funds from a federal Native Hawaiian Education grant, a team of educators from UH Manoa’s Center on Disability Studies, the Hawai‘i Department of Education, and ALU LIKE, Inc. created these lessons to help youth grow more respect and appreciation, develop life skills that help them understand themselves better, have more empathy and compassion for others, and strengthen their connection to place and community. These lessons can also address bullying in a culturally relevant way by helping youth work together to positively impact their school environments.

Purpose and Foundation

The Pono Life Skills Curriculum and website of resources is a response to the need for locally developed culturally relevant lessons and activities addressing the social and emotional well being of Hawaii’s youth. Through a history of collaboration with DOE teachers, University staff identified a need for locally relevant, engaging social skills or advisory lessons that focused on supporting student and school spirit.

With the foundational belief that culture based curricula and teaching methods are critical to empower Native Hawaiian youth in today’s education system, pono life skills lessons were created that integrate relevant cultural knowledge and interactive learning experiences.

Living pono”, which can be defined as making right choices based on respect for everyone and everything, is the central theme for these lessons. A foundation of Hawaiian values that reflect universal ideals are shared through ‘Olelo No‘eau or wise sayings, stories, and activities grounded in the past, present, and future. Lessons help each participant develop a deeper sense of self, place, and community as they teach communication, thinking, collaboration, and observation skills. Teachers are encouraged to help students understand that living pono is a way of being more than a destination or end goal. It is a life-long process animated through ongoing experiences everyone faces every day.

E Ola Pono! Here’s to living pono and helping youth value taking good care of themselves, their families, friends, communities, and the land that feeds them.

Sense of Self

“We need to ask, ‘Owai oe? (Who you?)” – Dr. Manulani Aluli Meyer

Self confidence, self worth, knowledge about self… preferences, passions, learning strengths, learning challenges, fears, goals, and dreams… These are all relevant to sense of self.

As learners, we become empowered when we know ourselves well. We can activate our best style of learning, work on things we know are a challenge, be clear about goals, and know areas of interest and passion that intersect with our natural abilities.

For many people, sense of self is grounded in cultural identity. Understanding ethnicity and heritage, family background, genealogy, values, home language and communication styles all impact how well we know and view ourselves.

“In culture, each child is the center. We’re looking at the individual child to look for all the ways, to figure out how they can ‘get it’, how they can succeed. The important reason behind that is that the better they excel, the more successful they are, the better for the whole. The whole will receive the benefits of who they are. The whole will excel the more the individual is skilled.”
– Kumu Raylene Ha‘alelea Kawaiae‘a

Understanding and improving oneself is of value beyond individual growth from a Hawaiian cultural perspective. It’s about contributing to the whole. For indigenous island cultures, mālama (to care for, protect, and preserve) is a way of life. For Hawaiian ancestors, protecting all available resources and perpetuating knowledge about people and place was critical for survival. This need to care for everyone and everything still exists today.

When students learn to identify their multiple intelligences, they can then feel good about personal strengths that might not be a focus in school. When someone learns that being artistic, athletic, reflective, naturalistic, verbal, or interpersonal are also areas of intelligence, the person’s ability to feel capable expands. It only makes sense that when people feel capable, they have better attitudes about learning. Taking time to help youth know themselves better provides a lifelong foundation of understanding that can make a huge difference in attitude and life choices.

Sense of Place

Ma keia ‘āina e pulama mai I loko o ku’u na’au.
The land which has nurtured me in its depths fills my heart.
‘Olelo Noeau by Mary Kawena Pukui

Connections to place continue to be of great importance in Hawai‘i today, as it has been for Native Hawaiians from generations past. Hawaiian identity is woven into place. A customary habit for the kama‘āina, or long time Hawaii resident, is to usually ask, “Where you from?” or “Where’s your family from?” Relationships are built through connections to people and place.

Home cultures often revolve around place, be it a family that fishes, surfs, farms, weaves, gardens, hunts, rides rodeo, or hikes. People are very proud to live on ancestral land or know that their family tree has generations of roots in a specific location.

The importance of place is also reflected in the Hawaiian practice of naming each specific area, large or small, from an oceanfront cove or hilltop in the uplands to an ahupua‘a or land division. Just in the naming of a place comes great history and mo‘olelo, or stories. The naming of elements such as wind, rain, and clouds particular to a place can often become a part of that relationship, too.

“Mālama ‘aina”, to care for the land, is foundational thinking in indigenous cultures and of grave significance in today’s world. The importance of caring for our environment is a critical issue that has dominated world news throughout the lifetime of most youngsters. Many students are interested in learning about the place they call home. Learning about home is important.

Dr. Manu Meyer suggests that the impact of building a deepened sense of place created through up close and personal experiences will change the way teachers look at curriculum and what is important for students to learn. Weaving connections to place helps students really know where they come from, which hopefully motivates generations to care well for the ‘aina, that which feeds us.

Sense of Community

The connections between Kanaka (man), Āina (land), and Ke Akua (Spirit) is sometimes referred to as the Lōkahi Triangle. These bonds of interconnectedness define the relations important for Native Hawaiian well-being. The following excerpt from the Aina Aloha website shares well this understanding of community:

“In the Hawaiian society, one is expected to know and understand what it means to be a contributing member of the community. Everyone has a kuleana, responsibility, to use his or her talents to the benefit of the entire ‘ohana (literally, family). By fulfilling our duties to the ‘ohana and recognizing the accomplishments of others, Hawaiians increase their mana or spirituality.

Built upon the foundation of the ‘ohana, Hawaiian culture ensures the health of the community as a whole. The Western concept of “immediate family” is alien to indigenous Hawaiians. The Hawaiian ‘ohana encompasses not only those related by blood, but all who share a common sense of aloha (love and compassion). It is common to hear Native Hawaiians who are meeting for the first time ask “Who is your family?” and then joke we must be related “because we are all related.”

A strong sense of belonging is developed from focusing on community, either through doing activities that build awareness and offer enjoyment together to completing a service project that provides a satisfying result. Focusing on learning about and serving the community of a classroom, school, or town will provide students with a memorable experience offering as much to the individual participant as it does to the beneficiary of this focused intention and energy.

A‘ohe hana nui ke alu ‘ia.
No task is too big when shared by all.
‘Olelo No‘eau by Mary Kawena Pukui

About the GPS Curriculum

  • Lessons are designed for youth in grades 4-12; some have been used with younger children as well as adults
  • Adapt the lessons as you see fit. Use them in an order that makes sense to you.
  •  Visit to find additional resources that can help teach about pono and peace.
  • Find additional culture based curricula at: