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The Kohala Center’s Farm to Forest: Giving back to the aina

December 4, 2017 - 1:00am

WAIMEA — In late November, The Kohala Center’s Ke Kumu Aina environmental education program began a new two-year initiative called Farm to Forest that will include a teacher planning workshop.

“The program is an aina-based education initiative that supports teachers and students in essential learning in the outdoor classroom,” said Ke Kumu Aina Director Mahina Patterson.

Funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Kamehameha Schools and the Hawaii Community Foundation (HCF), the program includes four schools within the North and South Kohala Districts in a long-term restoration project.

“The minimum requirement is two teachers and at least 50 students per school. We’re working with Kohala, Waikoloa and Waimea middle schools, as we well as the Alo Kehau o ka Aina Mauna Hawaiian charter school,” Patterson said.

Farm to Forest is part of an implementation plan for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), adopted by Hawaii’s State Board of Education in February 2016 to replace previous science standards and stress an interdisciplinary, hands-on approach to science learning.

“The NGSS advocates student-led learning for real-world investigations solving community issues. It lends itself to the type of education The Kohala Center has been offering for years. It’s also a way for us to support schools in making that transition to this type of education,” Patterson commented. “Teachers take on different roles as a facilitator and mentor. Students will be able to ask their own questions and do their own research.”

Teachers will meet Dec. 16 to create their own place-based curriculum that will be an investigation into real-world problems.

“One of the big components is that the students are learning outside in their place but they are also taking action for a community issue. In this case, the issue is deforestation and climate change,” Patterson said.

To do this, science, math and social studies teachers will collaborate to create an integrated curriculum.

“The science teacher might be concerned with scientific techniques and strategies, where the social studies teacher would be concerned with the cultural components or the historic aspects of deforestation,” Patterson remarked. “The teachers would be working together to do an interdisciplinary investigation with their shared students.”

Primary components are plant propagation, outplanting, monitoring and data collection.

“The dream is that the students will participate in as many steps of the process as possible. The first step is to get out into the field, seeing what an intact forest looks like and do some seed collection,” Patterson said.

Each school receiving funding over the course of the two-year program will use it to support their project.

“Most of it will be used for native plant propagation. Donna Mitts, who’s a program assistant and garden educator here at The Kohala Center, will lead the schools in the plant propagation on the school campus. Students can check on plants daily and do data collection and measurement, while the social studies class can look up the cultural history and significance of using the plants,” Patterson explained.

In the spirit of place-based learning, the schools will approach their projects in a way that connects to their unique context.

“Even though it’s a native plant propagation and restoration project, depending on the school it can look different,” Patterson said. “Waimea Middle School wants to explore their ahupuaa so they’re going to be starting at the ocean. They’ll be working with Na Kalai Waa for their first huakai. Then their next one will be in the kula,”

After the plant propagation and outplantings, the plan is to engage in data collection in the second year to answer questions about how much carbon is being sequestered by the outplanting.

“Then we can predict how much carbon will be sequestered in the future so students can have some idea of the worldwide impact they’re making through their actions,” Patterson explained. “I’m working with Alexandra Moore, a professor from Cornell, who had a longtime restoration program here with her college students. They flew to Hawaii to learn, but they also calculated and balanced out their carbon footprint.”

At the end of each year, like real-world scientists, students and teachers will present their findings at community venues.

“The culminating event this school year will be a group of students and their teacher presenting at some community event. At Alo Kehau o Ka Aina Mauna they have a regular school parent night. For others it maybe the Wiliwili Festival or the farmers market,” Patterson said.

The Farm to Forest program provides an opportunity for “a more collective approach to learning that’s hands-on. We need to be able to show that place-based learning can support students in learning the content,” she concluded.

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