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

A Sense of Belonging

It is imperative to create safe, nurturing learning environments in classrooms, schools and community.  As parents, guardians, educators and adults that are raising & working with children it is our kuleana, our responsibility to model aloha (love & compassion). We can facilitate positive growth of our keiki, our children by guiding them to uncover their unique gifts, talents, dreams and aspirations. To discover a love and passion for learning all of “life’s lessons.” We do this by building relationships based on trust, love of other and creating places, spaces where everyone feels they are loved, valued and they belong. Our keiki do not care how much we know until they know how much we care. 

In the 1940’s psychologist Abraham Maslow’s enlightened us with his Theory of Human motivation or more commonly known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem and self actualization. These needs affect us as human beings through out our whole life, from infancy to old age. They inform our thoughts, feelings and actions and we fluctuate between these desires as each need arises. Our overarching themes of Self, Place, Community and Belonging are all human desires that are interwoven in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. As educators it is important to know which level of need our students are currently challenged with to assist them to satisfy that need and guide them to the next higher level of need or desire.  

The original hierarchy of needs five-stage model includes: 

  1. Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep.
  2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear.
  3. Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, affection and love, – from work group, family, friends, romantic relationships.
  4. Esteem needs – achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, respect from others.
  5. Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

In traditional Hawaiian society before contact with the outside world, Hawaiians lived in lokahi, in harmony with one another, the land and their creator.  Everyone had an important part to play in their community, understanding the interconnectedness of all things.  This understanding deepened a sense of belonging.  When an individual feels disconnected or that they are less than, there is a tendency to act selfishly or recklessly against persons, places or things.  Our Hawaiian ancestors understood this and they created safe havens/places for people to escape to when they have harmed someone or violated the strict laws of conservation for Hawaii’s precious natural resources.  Chiefs designated areas called pu‘uhonua, which became a place of safety and freedom from punishment until the offender would spend time reflecting on their actions and spiritually cleanse themselves from their transgressions.  They would then be allowed to return to their families and communities as valued, contributing members of society.

“A pu’uhonua is a place of being, refuge, peace and safety.  Ka’uhane lokahi describes the well being of spirit in harmony within oneself and with all levels of community, including the cosmos. When people live in this state of well being they interact in right relationship with themselves, their families, their communities, and the natural world. This is being pono.  Each person carries personal responsibility to create and live pono relationships on all levels. Pono relationships are nourished by the loving compassion of sharing and caring for all life as family with aloha. Aloha is the energy of synchronous relationship between mind, heart, body and soul by which the alignment of each pono person connects them in right relationship with the whole universe. When aloha becomes the energy of the people, life is sustained within and without. We say that by caring and sharing, called malama, the people carry light.  A natural state of enlightenment based on a profound practice of caring and sharing is called malamalama. This way of life honors the reality of i ke kahi i ke kahi, one shared consciousness which connects and integrates all life as one living intelligence.”  – Excerpt from the Pu‘uhonua Peace Pact by Nalani Minton

Deepening our sense of self, our connection to ‘āina, discovering and sharing our gifts and talents to strengthen the wellbeing of community all contribute to a strong sense of aloha (love) and belonging.  

This section of the Pono Life skills curriculum focuses on activities and lessons that honor the uniqueness of each child/adults and explores ways to find commonalities that ground us to live in peace, harmony and appreciation of each other and with the natural world around us. 

‘A ‘ohe pau ka ‘ike I ka hālau ho‘okahi. 
All knowledge is not taught in the same school.
One can learn from many sources.
‘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.
  • Pre K through 3rd grade have been differentiated to offer ways to incorporate Hawaii’s DOE Na Hopena A‘o BREATH to culturally address SEL with our keiki. 
  • 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: