Keona Blanks: Education based on Aina is the path to a sustainable future


“Nail! Sail the jib now!

I gripped the rope and pulled it back with all my might, my whole body forming a sharp angle with the Hikianalia deck as the turquoise sea off Sand Island roared below.

It was the fourth hour of our day trip, and the sun was beating down on the breathless crew. I skillfully tied the rope to the bridge with a knot that I barely grasped in class.

The Voyage Crew Member Training Program I registered as a member of Na Kelamoku is part of a shift toward place-based experiential education led by nonprofit organizations, public-private partnerships, and public and private schools.

Nā Kelamoku is the youth leadership initiative of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a Hawaiian nonprofit organization established to research and perpetuate traditional Polynesian ways of travel. The results indicate that these programs had a positive impact on student outcomes, especially for Native Hawaiians.

Aina-based education, as it is called, is broadly defined as “teaching and learning through ‘āina so that our peoples, communities, and lands prosper,” Brandon Ledward writes in “Hūlili: Multidisciplinary Research on Hawaiian Wellness(Kamehameha Editions, 2019).

“‘Āina refers to land, sea and air – all that nourishes and sustains us,” Ledward explains.

My experience on Hikianalia has led me to speak with an array of Hawaii-based educators to learn more about how it inspires students to steer Hawaii toward a sustainable future.

“An Absolute Kuleana”

Many educators believe it is the responsibility of visitors and non-Hawaiian residents to engage in this work.

“If you’re going to teach here, if you’re going to work here, if you’re going to live in Hawaii, it’s an absolute kuleana (responsibility) to be connected to aina stewardship,” said Sandy Ward, a retiree. public school teacher with 37 years of field teaching experience and executive director of Malama Pu‘uloaan Oahu non-profit organization working to restore Pu’uloa (Pearl Harbor).

It’s not a new concept in Hawaii. The Kupuna (ancestors) used their experiences with the land for centuries to develop complex sustainable living systems long before contact with the West.

Educators believe Hawaii’s public school system is finally catching up.

Across the state, schools, complex areas, state offices and community organizations are modeling HĀ: Nā Hopena A’o, a pilot program launched by the Ministry of Education in 2016 that works with community organizations on a holistic approach to education. In their first year, 19 pilot HĀ (breathing) schools and 21 community organizations participated in the program.

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Mālama Pu’uloa Superintendent Sandy Ward leads the leadership team at James Campbell High School in a leadership launch based on the HĀ:Nā Hopena A’o principles. Keona Blanks/Civil Beat/2022

The DOE is working with Hawaii Green Growth, a public-private partnership committed to advancing economic, social, and environmental goals, on the program.

The partnership is also challenge schools and communities to increase school-community partnerships for aina-based stewardship through 2030.

On the island of Hawaii, Kehaulani Marshall watched Kanu O ka’ Āina Charter SchoolThe hands-on, culturally relevant approach to Special Education transforms students with physical and behavioral challenges.

“They would start working with us, and it would all go away,” said Marshall, co-founder of the accredited public charter school. “They found a niche where they could be contributors.”

Marshall recalls working with a high school freshman who barely read at the third-grade level. But in just one year, the school had him reading at the college level.

“But the program is nothing we created,” she added. “It was just about bringing the culture and connecting the students to aina.”

When Kamehameha schools heard about the school’s “Education with Aloha” program, the first of its kind, they immediately jumped on it and tried to formalize it, Marshall recalls.

After conducting research by Shawn KanaiupuniDirector of Public Education Support for Kamehameha Schools at the time, the school proved that the framework is a valid method to incorporate into education.

“Building Relationships First”

Around the same time, the DOE prescribed rigor, relevance, and relationships as key ingredients in the education formula for the K-12 system.

“These are great components, but they had it upside down,” said Herb Lee Jr., executive director of the Pacific American Foundation. “You have to start by building relationships first – between people, between place, family, community.”

Educators from the MEd CS STEMS² program on a field visit to the village of Palehua to learn how to create earth-based STEM programs. Offered by the University of Hawaii Manoa, the program is designed for educators who want to engage students in on-site and experiential learning. Keona Blanks/Civil Beat/2022

But the shift to aina-based education is not limited to schools. There has also been an increase in the number of nonprofits prioritizing place-based learning.

Kupu, for example, is an Oahu nonprofit with a dual mission of preserving the earth while empowering youth. Its goal is to inspire students to care about the community and the world around them, pursue higher education in a related field, and develop their workforce potential.

“In addition to all of its wonderful educational and career outcomes, AINA-based education gives students purpose, which is so important to Hawaii’s growth and future,” said Kupu CEO John Leong. .

Leong has seen Kupu alumni start their own nonprofits or work for state and federal agencies that focus on engaging the next generation of malama (to care for) aina-based work. He also visited Aina-based organizations where Kupu alumni make up 50-60% of their staff.

Identity recovery

Lee, who has served as executive director of the Pacific American Foundation since 2005, recalls the late 1990s when culture-based education — the term at the time — was considered less intellectually demanding.

But case study after case study has proven otherwise. In recent decades, studies have emerged examine the impact culture-based education on student achievement and social-emotional development.

Mahina Kaomea, former participant of Kauluakalanaa Kailua-based nonprofit, learned to see ahupuaa (division of land) in a new way through the program’s commitment to education, cultural revitalization, and reclaiming the land. ‘identify.

“Through the moolelo (stories) we learned, remembering place names, planting kalo and preparing traditional dishes, the program really awakened in me an awareness that there is a place for Kanaka (Natives Hawaiians) here in Kailua,” she said.

Now an educator in the program, Kaomea strives to inspire her students to realize their own sense of belonging by remembering their stories and stories.

“I hope they start to see beneath the surface of Kailua, beneath the way colonization likes to tell us that there is no more room for native culture, practices and plants here,” a- she added.

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Ward explains the importance of remembering and using traditional place names to connect students to the land when launching JCHS leadership. Courtesy of Visionize Media

Feeding our future

Food security is another objective of education based on the aina.

On a chain of islands that passes up to $3 billion a year imports more than 80% of its foodLee stresses the importance of an education system that connects people to the land as a way to increase Hawaii’s food security.

“Reconnecting with the land will allow us to understand how we can feed ourselves again,” explained Lee, whose work involved restoring one of Hawaii’s few remaining fish ponds, the Waikalua Loko Iʻa in Kaneohe.

“My pond is now an opportunity for people to combine indigenous wisdom with science and technology, because we need all of that to solve the problem of food sustainability on the islands,” he said.

Lee hopes Hawaii can increase its ability to sustain itself to at least 50%.

The Polynesian Voyaging Society sums up the concept in a beautifully simple analogy: on a canoe, food, water and plants are in short supply and therefore maintained with great care. We also have to take care of our resources in Hawaii.

Education based on Aina is the first step towards developing leaders who embody this framework and can ensure a sustainable future for the islands.


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