Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Aka‘ula School, Moloka‘i – A Model In Environmental Education

Education has always been important to me; while I was at DLNR, environmental education was a focus.

Ultimately, the goal was about making sure young people understand the interrelationship of the things around us and the responsibility we share on making sure we do the right thing.

Ultimately, it’s about the future, not what’s in it for any of us, now.

We started meetings with the DOE and looking at opportunities and programs to consider around the state; Aka‘ula School on Moloka‘i kept coming up in peoples’ conversations.

Something good was obviously happening there and we needed to understand what it was and include them in the process.

I called the principal and asked if I could visit the school; I spent the day watching what they were doing and interacting with the kids.

On that visit I was inundated with pointed questions from the student body about invasive plants and animals, endangered species, ballast water, etc.

The students demonstrated a surprising awareness of their surroundings and factors that may impact the quality of life for them, their family and future generations.

It was immediately evident that these students were engaged by the curriculum developed at Aka‘ula and by fields of study in which their "laboratory" was in their back yards and neighborhoods.

The lessons they learned about our fragile and precious resources were obviously strong, clear and lasting.      

Aka‘ula School is a private middle school in Kaunakakai Moloka‘i.  Their school motto is “Learning and Leading Together.”

The school incorporates the concept of PRISM (Providing Resolutions with Integrity for a Sustainable Molokai) it its curriculum.

The PRISM program has a long history on Molokaʻi and has received recognition and awards at local, state, national and international levels as an exemplary environmental education program.

PRISM was started to engage students in learning skills to become effective participants in their community.

To do this, teachers bring students, community resource managers and other leaders together on issues such as solid waste, land use, energy, ecotourism and biodiversity.

Developing these connections and networking with the community has led to increased interest in school by students, parents and community members. 

The ultimate intention of PRISM is to prepare environmentally literate citizens who are willing and able to make informed decisions which promote both the quality of human life and the quality of the environment.

In 2003, National and Molokai-specific research showed that PRISM students improved their critical thinking and problem solving skills and demonstrated the ability to be contributing community members.

Students participating in the program were reported to be more mature, have more poise, self-esteem and leadership ability, and were more autonomous than their peers.

Based on this commitment to education and recognizing there were good models to follow, at DLNR we initiated a legislative bill to expand the number of Charter Schools in the State through the establishment of new environmental education-focused charter schools (at least one per island.)

We suggested the Aka‘ula School was a perfect model for schools with a curriculum based on environmental issues.

Unfortunately, the legislature did not pass the bill.  Hmmm.

Too often, neighbor island initiatives are overlooked and must yield to Honolulu-centric thinking.  It’s too bad, Moloka‘i and Aka‘ula School have a lot to teach the rest of us.

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