On a crisp, sunny morning, Heidi Armstrong greeted the welcoming circle at
Camp Pālehua in the Wai‘anae Mountains where several dozen educators and community partners gathered.
The Complex Area Superintendent for Campbell-Kapolei said that, in her view, the focus of the gathering was two-fold:
- Community partnerships that are truly “win-win,” in which each partner is enriched by the arrangement; and
- Finding meaningful ways to bridge two initiatives: The Complex Area’s Project Lead the Way (PLTW) effort, and the statewide HĀ ends policy.
HĀ and PLTW are initiatives focused on outcomes.
PLTW, which has been rolling out at select Campbell-Kapolei schools over the last two years, features rigorous learning opportunities for students in biomedicine, computer science and engineering along a K-12 pathway that lead to high-quality, in-demand careers.
HĀ, also known as Nā Hopena A‘o, seeks to develop the learning environment and competencies that strengthen a sense of belonging, responsibility, excellence, aloha, total-well-being and Hawai‘i (“BREATH,” or HĀ) in schools and communities.
While distinct, these outcomes are both designed to cultivate successful communities, where students graduating from the school system have the option to find and build careers that allow them to stay in Hawai‘i.
The question posed by Armstrong was how to bring it all together — authentically?
This question provided a framework for the learning and collaboration among the participants; in addition to teachers, school leaders and camp stewards, these included community partners from The Learning Coalition, HIKI (a division of the Pacific American Foundation), The Leader Project, STEMS2, UH-West Oahu, and Queens Medical Center – West Oahu — each with stakeholders who were eager to build “win-win” partnerships to grow student and community success.
Before breaking out into groups, participants engaged in a ho‘owaiwai (to create abundance) protocol in which water was poured into an ipu to cement their collective work. Teams of four then worked through a place-based inquiry process through the PLTW lens, focusing on sustainability efforts involving natural resources at the camp:
- Native plants
- The Pā (walled yard) at Pālehua Ranch
- Soil erosion
- The camp
Participants shared their personal understanding of each of these assets, and began shaping additional questions to drive future project designs.
Connecting to 'place'
Later that morning, the group traveled up the road about a mile from the camp to visit the Pā. Ranch Ranger Anu challenged the participants to take their work beyond what they know as “place-based learning,” echoing Armstrong’s directive.
“What is necessary to take knowledge forward?” he asked. “It’s more than being in a place. You need a sense of direction. And a sense of time.”
Upon entering the Pā, participants were asked to be silent for 10 minutes. It was an opportunity to disconnect from the note taking and work of the moment and begin observing the surroundings: the shapes and placement of rocks, the groupings of trees, native and invasive, the angle and ascent of the sun in relation to the rock walls.
In the hour that followed, Anu shared stories of how Hawaiians 400 years earlier used the Pā to build their knowledge of earth, sea and sky, which were transmitted via several hundred teachers learning at the Pā to the ‘Ewa plain and coast below, where most of the people lived. That led to an awareness of how those assets are preserved now and the conservation efforts in combating the invasive species (planted a century ago by landowners seeking to limit soil from the mountain from silting onto the farmlands below).
A teacher asked Anu about how to get students engaged in the types of mālama ‘āina efforts he spoke of.
“Give students leadership opportunity,” he said. “They need ownership.” He explained that while he didn’t have the deed to the ranch, and while titles for land are out of reach for many in the Islands, his kuleana conferred an expectation as important as ownership.
“I am responsible. This is my land to mālama.”
Career pathways to build communities
By the afternoon participants were meditating on the many ways in which the day’s work translates at the school and classroom levels. Justin Delos Reyes, a Campbell High computer science teacher, brought it back into focus.
He made a strong pitch for a crediting system that more flexibly accepts stackable certifications in programming languages as pathway credits — not just electives (or at a minimum as electives) — toward graduation.
“These kids don’t have to leave Hawai‘i for good-paying jobs,” he said. “Local companies, military, hospitals, they’re all looking for these skills now. I’m always telling my kids, you learn this, you pick up these certifications, you can start work — good work — tomorrow.”
Knowing nods from the participants gave way to a debate about how partnerships can move forward to help connect kids to rich opportunities, and it circled back to building the interest early. Elementary school leaders sought tours from members representing Queens Medical Center-West Oahu, who were eager to get started.
Hope Espinda, the STEM resource teacher for Campbell-Kapolei who is helping to coordinate the PLTW rollout in schools, reflected on the connections to HĀ.
“What does a partnership that works look like?” she asked, echoing the earlier focus on “win-win” relationships.
She posited that that the answer lies in those that meet the specific missions of the partner organizations while creating learning environments that strengthen HĀ outcomes (belonging, responsibility, excellence, aloha, total well-being and Hawai‘i) in ourselves, schools, and the broader community.
The day ended with a sharing of ideas for school community partnerships going forward. Participants closed with a ho‘owaiwai ceremony to give back to Pālehua the water collected earlier that day, with shared appreciation for the gifts received.
Next: HĀ summit
The work of the Campbell-Kapolei team and those of the other regional HĀ Design Teams will be shared at the HĀ Summit on May 6 at Wai‘anae High School.