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Honoring Hawaii’s indigenous language and culture: Waimea HA Design Team selected to connect community with the aina

September 22, 2017 - 12:45am

WAIMEA — Two middle-school teachers, a seventh-grade student and two Kohala Center employees were announced in mid-September as a Na Hopena A’o (HA) Design Team by the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE)’s Office of Hawaiian Education (OHE).

Twenty school/community design teams were selected total throughout the state.

Developed by OHE as a systemwide framework to “develop the skills, behaviors and dispositions reminiscent of Hawaii’s unique context in school communities,” the HA program honors the qualities and values of the indigenous language and culture of Hawaii. It lays out six fundamental outcomes — belonging, responsibility, excellence, aloha, total well-being and Hawaii (BREATH) — to be strengthened across the entire public school system and in the communities in which HIDOE schools exist.

The Waimea design team consists of Jade Bowman and Jamilynn Mareko, seventh-grade science and social studies teachers at Waimea Middle School (WMS); Kealohalani Etherton, a WMS seventh grader; and Ilene Grossman, environmental education coordinator, and Mahina Patterson, aina based education specialist, at The Kohala Center (TKC).

They will attend a training day at Waipahu High School on Oahu Oct. 9 to engage with other design teams from across the state, deepen their understanding of HA and plan their own HA Community Day later this year.

The Waimea team’s winning proposal features a HA Community Day rooted in the community value of Aloha Aina — deep reverence and respect for the land and natural resources. The day will be hosted in the Kohala watershed, or more specifically in the Koai’a-Pelekane restoration corridor, a project site of TKC’s Kohala Watershed Partnership which has been set aside for ecological restoration and watershed conservation.

“School, family and community members will be given an authentic opportunity to take environmental action and create a tangible connection to aina through outplanting native plant species in the restoration corridor,” Patterson said. “This activity will demonstrate how environmental action is not only a hands-on way to strengthen BREATH but also contributes to mitigating the effects of climate change and building more resilient native Hawaiian ecosystems.”

Currently, four North Hawaii schools are on board with year-long class projects involving the restoration: Waikoloa Middle School, Kohala Middle School, Waimea Middle School and Alo Kehau o Ka Aina Mauna. The HA design team will showcase the aina-based education collaboration — Ke Kumu Aina Farm to Forest Program — by giving participating teachers and their students the opportunity to share and present their class projects and field science research during the HA Community Day in the Kohala watershed.

The desired outcomes for the day include increased collaboration between schools, teachers and community-based environmental organizations; enhanced school, community and family engagement with the Kohala watershed through ecological restoration; and a deepened individual and collective understanding of the HA framework in the context of aina-based learning, aloha aina and environmental action. Participants will leave with an increased understanding of HA in the context of aina-based education; development of a stewardship ethic towards their watershed; enhanced connection to their place; a deeper understanding of aina; and strengthened connections to their school and family members. They will also obtain an increased understanding of community-based environmental organizations like TKC, with access to supportive programs and opportunities.

TKC’s newly named CEO, Cheryl Ka’uhane Lupenui, was one of 12 state-wide leaders who contributed to the development of HA. She subsequently brought a discussion of the program to Kohala Center staff and together they discussed how their work fits in the HA framework.

Two of The Center’s programs in particular — Ke Kumu Aina and the Hawaii Meaningful Environmental Education for Teachers (HI-MEET) — illustrate and put the principles of HA into action.

Ke Kumu Aina is an environmental education program designed to HIDOE standards and HA outcomes. It provides K-12 students and teachers the opportunity to learn and teach from their own aina, creating more optimal conditions for strengthening the six outcomes of HA in every student over the course of their K-12 journey.

Ke Kumu Aina currently offers a year-long, during-school Farm-to-Forest Program as well as aina-based education support for teachers and schools and inter-session programs for middle- and high-school students. The Ke Kumu Aina Fall Break and Alakai Opio Programs for secondary students will take place Oct. 9-13 and are currently accepting applications.

HI-MEET offers place-based field research programs with the goal of getting Hawaii school children out of their classrooms and into their ahupua’a (mountain-to-sea land divisions). The program began in 2016 when a team of master teachers came together to develop and field test middle- and high-school field science curriculum. The curriculum focuses on watershed investigations and includes instruction on field observation skills and field sampling techniques along with 14 lesson plans. It also features a unique emphasis on “place” and connections to Hawaiian language and culture, such as appropriate culture-based protocol for engaging with aina.

This year’s HI-MEET program launched in late July with a three-day, hands-on workshop in Waimea. Nineteen teachers participated in the workshop including 15 middle- and high-school teachers from North Kohala, Kona and Hilo.

Participants said they appreciated receiving the curriculum guide and the opportunity to practice using the lessons plans. Beyond that, “They really appreciated learning about Hawaiian kilo observation skills and Hawaiian cultural protocols such as traditional chants for entering natural areas,” Grossman said. “And the importance of including kamaaina and kupuna in educating their students about place.”

The next steps for HI-MEET will include two to four classroom visits later this month by science experts, and future field trips for students and teachers to practice in real time what they have learned.

WMS science teacher Mari Souza said HI-MEET is a unique partnership that is allowing her students to study and experience Hawaiian ecosystems from a scientific perspective.

“Without this partnership, I feel that many of the students would never see the amazing flora and fauna that once existed on their island,” she said. “I hope that by providing this experience, students use their new knowledge to respect and protect the living things that surround them, and share their experiences with others.”

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