HONOLULU – More than 300 students today became the first of more than 1,000 students this week who will get a close-up view of a lava flow that forced them to change schools. The field trip turned into a hands-on science lesson for Pahoa Elementary children as they met with geologists, touched hardened lava and shared their feelings of relocating to a new school.
Students were invited by Hawaii County Civil Defense (HCCD) and other county officials and geologists to view parts of Apa'a Street and the Pahoa Transfer Station, closed due to lava from Kilauea’s June 27 flow. Tours for 600 more public school students will be conducted throughout the remainder of the week, and include the rest of Pahoa’s students, and those from Keonepoko Elementary, the school that closed on October 28.
In early November, Principal Michelle Payne-Arakaki said Pahoa Elementary received nearly 300 students from Keonepoko Elementary, who lived south of the flow. She said the first month of introducing new members in the student population has gone smoothly.
"Today's tour gave students the opportunity to visibly see the magnitude of this episode and why they were forced to move," said Keone Farias, incoming Complex Area Superintendent for Kau-Keaau-Pahoa. "Today's event helps tie in what they're learning in the classroom with what's happening in nature. It also helps them build their academic vocabulary and give context to their writing."
Members from HCCD, including Director Darryl Oliveira, greeted the students at the Pahoa Transfer Station on Apa'a Street. The students viewed seven different stations hosted by scientists and experts from the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes (CSAV) and Hawaii Electric Light Company (HELCO), in addition to those from HCCD.
Each station featured hands-on activities to engage students, including a video, demonstrations of the speed of the lava and interactive games. The most poignant moment came when students offered a makana to Pele at the edge of the now-stalled lava flow and shared their feelings about being at a new school. After offering their gift, students were able to touch the fresh lava and see that although it has since cooled on the surface, it is still sharp and continues to cool underneath.
To demonstrate the speed of the lava flow (averaging about 60 feet per hour), volunteers asked students to shuffle their feet a minute over the length of a few inches. “You don’t have to outrun the lava, you can outwalk it,” said Don Thomas, director for UH-Hilo’s CSAV. They also got a close look at one of the utility poles that HELCO was able to buffer from the lava using a combination of thermal insulation around the wooden poles, then creating a retaining wall around the poles using concrete and wire fencing filled with cinder. The tour ended with a viewing of the lava breakthroughs around the perimeter of the transfer station.
Oliveira, who played a critical role in preparing the community and assisting the DOE during school closures, said it was important to allow students whose schools were affected first access to the new lava.
“Some may have a difficult time, so we are trying to reach the kids and hopefully they can walk away feeling more comfortable about the disruption in their lives,” said Oliveira.
Two former Keonepoko students who relocated to Pahoa Elementary described the field trip as “awesome.”
“I found it interesting because we got to meet the Civil Defense people and see what they did for us when it came to access roads in case the lava came,” said one student.
Another said: “We got to see Pele today, and take pictures of Pele, and see how the lava affected Apa'a Street.”
“This lava flow has changed the lives of many people in Puna, and we wanted to make sure the school children who were most directly affected by the lava were among the first members of the public to visit the flow and see it up close,” said Mayor Billy Kenoi. “This is an opportunity for these students to learn about the awesome power of the volcanoes that formed our island and continue to shape it, and they will remember this experience for many years to come.”
“We are very proud of these children, and proud of their resilience as their families and their community continue to deal with this challenge.”
Photos of today’s student tour can be viewed here; a video of the first tour can be seen below.
About the Hawaii State Department of Education
The Hawaii State Department of Education is among the largest U.S. school districts and the only statewide educational system in the country. It is comprised of 255 schools and 34 charter schools, and serves more than 180,000 students. King Kamehameha III established Hawaii’s public school system in 1840. The DOE is in the midst of a range of historic efforts to transform its public education system to ensure graduates succeed in college or careers.