Sustainability takes off at Jefferson Elementary


Boasting a Hawaiian garden, hydroponics and solar panels, the Honolulu school has emerged as a model of sustainable practices, thanks to committed educators, students and the community.

​​​​“We all work as one team to do what is right for our students.”​
-- Jefferson Elementary Principal ​Garret Zakahi.

​​​​​​​​​​​​At Jefferson Elementary​, sustainability is more than just a buzzword.

​​Parent volunteers helped revive a now-thriving Hawaiian garden used in the curriculum. The school recently received 20 hydroponics kits through a generous grant awarded by the Rotary Club of Honolulu Sunset. And in February, the campus completed the installation of 700 solar panels – enough to produce all the energy it needs.

The school embeds Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) practices to enhance Common Core teaching and utilize resources efficiently, explained Principal Garret Zakahi (pictured), who envisions Jefferson Elementary as a model of environmental sustainability for Waikiki and Kapahulu.​

"The multi-year vision for of sustainability focuses on several key areas including fostering and leveraging community partnerships, increasing students' sense of place and pride in their school," he stated.​

Among the initiatives already in place:

  • Processing fruit and vegetable waste from breakfast and lunches in vermicast bins. Plans are in the works for a hot compost bin that would accommodate more leftover fruits and vegetables.
  • Using shredded tree leaves and branches to help maintain a moist environment for plants and trees to grow in the Native Hawaiian garden, ti leaf garden, and dryland taro patches.
  • Increasing awareness of sustainability: fourth graders take shredded paper to vermicast bins afterschool on Fridays. The school also brought back a classroom recycling program, and the Student Council picks up recyclables on a regular basis. All recyclable products are taken to a campus recycling bin.

The school's garden is also woven into the curriculum, Zakahi said.  

"Our fifth graders have designed a weed blocking system that will maximize ti leaf growth and minimize weed growth over a period of five months," he explained. "The goal would be to produce 14 ti leaf skirts for our Hula performers on May 13, at our 'Celebration of Culture' event. Each class (three in total) designed their own system and there is also a control garden (no weed block system)."  

Hawaiian Studies classes include lessons about invasive seaweed and Manoa's ahupua'a system, with kupuna bringing the subject to life and connecting with students through real life experiences.

Sustainability practices at Jefferson Elementary are driven by a newly formed STEM TEAM committee (for Together Everyone Achieves More) comprised of students, parents, staff, community members and partners, Zakahi said.

"We all work as one team to do what is right for our students," he said.

Contact Information

Communications and Community Affairs Office

Phone: 808-586-3232



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