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Students at Ewa Makai middle school get a hands-on lesson in the value of recycling.
Photo: Dave Rezendes
Sustainability Starts Here
A cleaner, greener Hawaii takes more than changes today. It also means instilling sustainable values in our keiki.
Nothing is more important to Hawaii’s sustainable future than the support of our keiki. “Children are the seeds of change. By providing hands-on learning opportunities through green initiatives, we are fostering in them a love for the environment that will empower them to preserve and protect our beautiful Islands for generations to come,” says Kim Johnson, co-founder and executive director of Kokua Hawaii Foundation.
In schools, kids learn that caring for the aina is a collective value, an important part of community life. “School is a foundation for living our attitudes and beliefs,” says David Wong, science teacher at Ewa Makai middle school, Hawaii’s first public school to receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold rating from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC).
“We want our students to take what they know about environmental stewardship and share it with their communities and families.”
Educators and students at Waialae public charter school teach and learn with these values in mind. As one of the first five schools to adopt Kokua Hawaii Foundation’s “Aina IS” program, Waialae has introduced lessons to their curriculum focused on health, nutrition, waste management and connection to the aina.
Students in grades two and five receive nutrition lessons. Kindergarten, first and fifth-grade classes tend demonstration gardens. Their mini-plots produce salad greens, beans, sunflowers, herbs, corn and squash, and they attract butterflies, which the kids observe to learn about how insects affect plant growth.
In addition, second-graders bury small bits of opala from the dining hall and observe it to learn if it breaks down. In Hawaiian studies, fourth graders study the ancient ahupuaa, the geographical wedge from the mountain to sea, that was precontact Hawaiians’ way of managing all the natural resources in one land division. Fifth-grade gardens reinforce the scientific process and provide context for learning early-American history through agriculture.
If you want to make your child's school a greener place to learn, there's good news: Students and parents are key to the process. “Much of the success that Hawaii has had in greening our schools in the last decade has come from the local, personal level,” says Chris Parker, co-chair of the Green Schools Committee at the Hawaii chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.
How you can help
Volunteer. Parents at Waialae school are trained by Kokua Hawaii Foundation to lead nutrition lessons. Find out what eco-friendly curriculum your child’s school uses and volunteer to help.
Start programs. As part of a science class, students and faculty at Waialae school found plastics in the dissected stomach of an albatross. The impact of the investigation inspired a parent to begin collecting bottle caps after every assembly for recycling. “The kids get a tangible sense of what it means to keep plastics out of the ocean,” says Waialae principal Wendy Lagareta. “Part of our mission is that we are a community of learners. Everybody participates.”
Seek help. The University of Hawaii's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) donated an adult tilapia breeding population to Ewa Makai middle school’s aquaponics garden so the students could study the symbiotic relationship between plants and animals in a closed system. Like-minded educational institutions and community organizations may be able to provide materials or to help develop the school's project-based learning initiatives.
Form partnerships. Wonderful non-profit groups such as Blue Planet Foundation (blueplanetfoundation.org), The Green House Hawaii (greenhousehawaii.org), The Hawaii Nature Center (hawaiinaturecenter.org), Kokua Hawaii Foundation (kokuahawaiifoundation.org) and others want to help parents, administrators and teachers find funding and implement green learning for schools. Talk with your principal or science teachers about reaching out to them.
Improve the school environment. Greener school buildings promote the physical, social, and environmental health and wellbeing that help kids learn. Work with your school administration to learn where you can make eco-friendly changes such as reducing artificial light in favor of daylighting. Prioritize classrooms or study areas such as libraries where children spend a large part of the school day. Discover the key components of a green school and find out how they affect learning at the U.S. Green Building Council’s centerforgreenschools.org. Click the “K-12” tab.
Six Simple Steps … to promoting aina-based learning in schools
1. Stage a recycling fundraiser. Have family, friends, and neighbors donate their recyclables to your school to redeem for Hi-5 cash for the next field trip or school event. Learn more at opala.org/services&programs/fundraisers.
2. Get free educational tools. Hawaiian Electric Company provides teachers in grades K through 12 with free energy-related educational videos and literature designed for classroom use. Go to heco.com, click on “Community” and “Teachers Resources” for more information.
3. Bring learning home. Support kids’ excitement for green learning. Recycling at school? Let kids sort the opala at home. Growing a class garden? Help start a windowsill garden in the kitchen. “We want our students to take what they know about environmental stewardship and share it with their communities and families,” says Vanessa Kealoha, “green teacher” at Ewa Makai middle school.
4. Ask for an eco-field trip. Ask the teacher to organize field trips that teach kids about their natural environment. They can tour an organic farm, visit The Hawaii Nature Center, check out Hoomaluhia Gardens or spend some time at Kualoa Ranch. For more ideas, visit Hawaii Families for Educational Choice at
hawaiiedchoice.org and click “Field Trips.” Need funds? Environmental Education Field Trip Grants are available through Kokua Hawaii Foundation for those who qualify.
5. Promote healthier snacks and lunches. Healthy, unprocessed foods provide kids with more brain power and are better for the environment. If your child’s school-lunch program allows, ask for more fresh fruits and vegetables on the lunch menu. Ask what's served at snack time and find out what's in the vending machines. Can the options be healthier?
6. Start a school garden. School gardens are the ultimate hands-on learning centers. The Green House Hawaii offers excellent classes for starting up school gardens and lessons in sprouting, planting and harvesting.
Sun Power for Schools
Did you know: Hawaiian Electric Company has installed small demonstration photovoltaic systems on the roofs of more than 30 public schools across the state? Sun Power for Schools, a partnership of Hawaiian Electric Company and the Hawaii Department of Education, is designed to help educate students through hands-on examples of how clean energy can benefit Hawaii. Find out how to enroll your school at heco.com by clicking “Community.”
Become a Plastic Free School
Register your school for Kokua Hawaii Foundation’s plastic-free schools program. Fill out the online form, assemble a team of parents, teachers and administrators and start to eliminate plastic use altogether. Create a “plastic-free logo” for your school and download a step-by-step startup guide and find lots of plastic-eliminating ideas at kokuahawaiifoundation.org.
Take the Home-Energy Challenge
Enroll your child’s school in Hawaiian Electric’s 2012 / 2013 Home-Energy Challenge. Families compete for the greatest reduction in energy use during a year. Winning schools can earn up to $10,000! Congratulations to Pearl Ridge Elementary School, the winner for 2011 / 2012. Find out more at heco.com by clicking the “Home-Energy Challenge” button.
Learning with the Green House
Educators from The Green House Sustainable Learning Center offer turnkey courses in worm-bin composting, building and maintaining a compost pile, cooking healthy foods, water catchment and more. Find a full list of available classes at thegreenhousehawaii.com/schoolclasses.html.
Just for Kids
Hey, kids! Test oil, water and rubbing alcohol to find out how evaporation helps conserve or waste energy at home. This and other awesome Earth-minded science-fair project ideas are at: sciencebuddies.org.
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