It all started with an unsolicited email.
Farrington High School Vice Principal Ron Oyama was searching online for companies that might be willing to partner with the Kalihi school to offer hands-on learning opportunities for students in a sports marketing class.
He came across the World Surf League, which runs most of the world’s premier professional surf competitions, including the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing on the North Shore.
Oyama figured he’d give it a shot and sent an email to Jodi Wilmott, regional general manager of WSL Hawaii/Tahiti Nui and vice president of events for the Asia-Pacific.
The email instantly resonated with Wilmott.
“I thought it was a really heartfelt and passionate and meaningful email, and it really compelled me to follow up … because doing more than just events in the community is something that’s very important to us and it just kind of snowballed from there,” said Wilmott, who’s based out of WSL’s regional headquarters in Haleiwa.
The school found an industry partner eager to tap into the talents and skills of students in urban Honolulu — students who typically aren’t exposed to the surfing lifestyle on the North Shore.
“I was particularly interested in Farrington because it’s a long way from where people would expect us to partner with a school,” Wilmott said. “Right there in Kalihi, it’s so odd ball to where we’re located and what we’re used to, but I thought that made it all the more of a right fit because if surfing can work with a school and kids in Kalihi, then it shows you the real breadth and scope of the operation that we have."
“One email changed our whole life. That’s how it started — just reaching out,” Oyama said.
It started last school year when Farrington and WSL teamed up on event planning to honor surfers Ben Aipa and Carissa Moore. See story.
In the latest collaboration between Farrington and WSL, students in the school’s Engineering Academy spent the past school year designing plans and model-sized versions of a mobile trailer for WSL to use at local events. The trailer is essentially a storefront on wheels that can be transported to surf meets and parked on the beach to sell T-shirts, stickers, insulated water bottles and other items.
In all, some 200 Farrington students worked in teams to handle everything from designing, budgeting and prototyping for the project, including designing a chassis frame for the structure to be mounted on. The students also worked with the state Department of Transportation to ensure their proposals were “street legal.”
The students constructed eight miniature prototypes and recently pitched their designs to a panel of WSL business executives during a presentation in the school’s auditorium. The company praised elements of each design and selected two of the designs as finalists.
Next year’s seniors and juniors will spend the upcoming school year fine-tuning a final design and building a full-size version of the trailer that will be about 20 feet long and 10 feet wide.
Oyama said the opportunity to create a tangible product for an actual business motivated students.
“They just need a chance. Just give them the opportunity and watch them explode,” Oyama said. “A project like this gives them the opportunity to showcase their talents and at the same time they’re learning.”
Students behind the two winning designs said the thought of creating a trailer for the World Surf League was intimidating at first because they felt pressure to perform at their best.
“In this class, we’re given scenarios to design buildings and structures for ‘clients.’ When WSL came in we all thought, ‘OK, it’s just another imaginary client.’ But then we realized, Oh, it’s real,” said 17-year-old Angela Grace Piso, a senior who worked on one of the winning designs.
“There was both pressure and excitement. You want to prove yourself amongst your peers,” Piso added.
She said she and her teammates felt relieved when their design was selected as a finalist. “Our hard work paid off,” said Piso, who will be attending Kapiolani Community College and wants to double-major in engineering and theater.
Jeremy Seitz, lead teacher for Farrington’s Engineering Academy, said he’s always incorporated hands-on learning for his students, but the WSL merchandise trailer project was the first opportunity to have a project-based lesson span all of the Academy’s classes, including core subjects.
Students in Design Technology turned drawings into blueprints and digital mockups. Students in the Building and Construction and Metal Technology classes built miniature models scaled to size. The project was also tied into Expository Writing, Physics, and Global Studies and Geography.
Seitz said the students received an unparalleled learning experience.
“It’s been a fantastic experience for the kids,” he said. “They got real-world experience. They got validation about the work that they’re doing. And just the professional skills: being able to collaborate; being organized; having to work with a client; having to provide the client with what they needed and wanted. They really got a good professional learning experience.”
Seitz, who’s been teaching at Farrington for 12 years, said he hopes the project showcases to the community and the public the kinds of innovative projects Farrington students are capable of doing.
“The kids want to be successful. It’s important that people know that,” Seitz said. “They are amazing, respectful and super intelligent students. And they’re motivated.”
Eleventh-grader Anh Ky Hoang, who worked on one of the winning designs, said he believes he had the hardest time among his teammates trying to master design principles.
“But, honestly, just the fact that we had the opportunity to work on this project just made me want to thrive even more,” Hoang, 16, said.
Twelfth-grader Bong Barayuga, 17, described the project as fun but scary. “It was scary knowing it was real and that we couldn’t mess up and we had to put actual work into it,” said Barayuga, who plans to study engineering in college.
Team partner Renz Delorcasa, 18, who plans to study occupational safety or carpentry at Honolulu Community College, also described the project as intimidating at first.
“It’s actually scary because we didn’t know if they were going to choose our design but most of it was fun because we learned how to be like a businessman and present our product to the client,” he said.
Sophia Marquez, 17, whose team designed the other winning proposals, said it was exciting to try something new.
“What I liked the most about this project is that it was something new for me. I’ve never done any kind of work like this before, and it was interesting and made me want to learn more,” Marquez said.
Her team partner Glorie Anne Calipjo, 17, said it was an “honor” to design a project for WSL that will be used in its events. “It’s actually a great experience for us to be able to grow and to just learn new things about engineering and what’s expected from the real world,” she said.
Some of the students said that working on the project helped them get a feel for future career possibilities.
“It’s definitely given me an idea of what I might want to work on after high school and what I might want to do,” said Treven Isobe, 16, who worked on one of the winning designs.
Eleventh-grader Angelle Vallejo, 17, said she chose to be in the Engineering Academy “because this is the most male dominated. We need more females in the field.”
WSL’s Wilmott said the students exuded confidence and passion in their business presentations for their trailer designs.
“There was a lot of pride, and that comes from the teachers instilling confidence and respect in the students,” she said. “You really get a sense at Farrington that respect is a two-way street between students and teachers. There’s just such a great camaraderie on that campus and such a great, inspired work ethic.”
Wilmott contends the WSL team gets more out of the partnership than the students.
“I always walk away from there almost feeling guilty because I feel like we learn more and we take away more and we benefit from that experience just being exposed to that attitude than we can even think of giving them back,” she said. “We get so much out of it on a human level.”