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Hawaii News

‘Uncle Alika’ is a natural at teaching

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Alika Raneses, 69, a Hawaiian studies teacher at Ala Wai Elementary School, was a crossing guard when the principal learned he was taking Hawaiian studies classes and asked him to come inside and teach. Raneses passes on lessons about island life, culture and language to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. "At my age, it's good to teach people," Raneses said. "Then they can take over from me."

The afternoon school bell rings.

Alika Raneses calls out to a moon-faced third-grader, exchanging greetings and good-natured teasing.

The 69-year-old Ala Wai Elementary School part-time Hawaiiana teacher — "Uncle Alika" to the kids — grins when the boy says he’s taking an after-school hula class.

"Good for you!" Raneses says. "Come ‘ere, that deserves a high five!"

He slaps hands with the boy and tousles the youngster’s mop of hair. The boy smiles and shuffles away.

After retiring from a career that included jobs as an airport law enforcement officer and a security officer at the federal immigration building, Raneses found a part-time job as a crossing guard at Ala Wai.

When the school’s principal, Charlotte Unni, found out he was taking Hawaiian Studies adult education classes at Kaimuki High School, she asked him to move into the classroom as part of the Department of Education’s kupuna program.

"What are you talking about?" he remembers protesting. "I never teach before!"

But here he is, four years later, a fixture on campus, regaling third-, fourth- and fifth-graders with stories as he covers basic Hawaiian words and phrases, history and culture.

"I see a spring in his step when those kids walk in," says Ala Wai Vice Principal Lisa Mendonca. "He’s here for the kids."

Raneses has four adult sons, five grandchildren "and one on the way," and he has a knack for making fast friends with the Ala Wai students.

"Teaching is a lot of loving," he says.

"(Alika) comes in early, and he leaves late," says Mendonca, describing how Raneses kept kids engaged as cafeteria monitor by improvising Hawaiian-language challenges for them. "He’s devoted to the kids and to the Hawaiian culture."

With just over a third of the Ala Wai students speaking English as a second language, "to have somebody as strong as Alika to help them understand where they live and the culture that binds us, it’s wonderful," Mendonca says.

Raneses figures he’ll teach for two more years. "But my wife tells me, ‘You said that last year!’" he laughs.

After school, Raneses turns to his other passion: paddling. He was a track guy (Hilo High School class of ’59), but he has paddled since he was "16 or 17," when he completed the first of his three Moloka’i Hoe races.

For the past two years, he competed in the 60-and-older division during the short-sprint regatta season with a Kalihi Kai crew that practices on the Ala Wai Canal.

After coaching at Aiea High School for four years, he’ll start his second season at Kaimuki High in a few weeks.

"I had a few girls and boys who never held a paddle in their life," he says. "But as the years went by, they became my best paddlers."

Raneses is a friendly freelance guru for novice club paddlers, offering encouragement and tips on technique.

"He’ll tell you what you’re doing right and doing wrong," says Phuong Ma, who is in her second season of paddling. "He doesn’t sugarcoat it … but he does it in such a positive way. I love that about him."

"At my age, it’s good to teach people," Raneses says. "Then they can take over from me."


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