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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 19, 2001

Program will chart course for ocean-oriented careers

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hokule'a navigator Nainoa Thompson says the new Ocean Learning Program for high school students, giving them a strong base for academic and maritime careers, has been his longtime dream.

Advertiser library photo • September 2000

For more information

Presentations about the Ocean Learning Program for incoming high school juniors.

6:30 p.m. tomorrow and 10 a.m. Saturday.

The Advanced Technology Research Center, 475 22nd Ave. (old National Guard building).

236-7419 or mmchow@hawaii.edu

A school day could begin early in the morning, waist-deep in the ocean, and end after dark.

Or it could start in a pouring rain on the edge of a windward stream. Or on the deck of the Polynesian Voyaging Society canoe Hokule'a.

In two presentations this week, Hokule'a navigator Nainoa Thompson and curriculum specialists from the state Department of Education and the University of Hawai'i will explain a visionary program that, starting this summer, will offer two dozen O'ahu public high school students a dazzling new educational choice.

Called the Ocean Learning Program, it will begin with a three-week summer school session to certify participants in Red Cross water safety and lifeguard training, and introduce them to the waters of Maunalua Bay.

Then, instead of junior and senior year at their high schools, these students will embark on a new adventure in education, something Thompson calls a "laboratory for learning how we can make the values of stewardship a social and civil priority."

The three sponsors hope it will prepare a new generation of young people for jobs as marine scientists, ocean environmental scientists, deep-sea navigators and teachers.

"It's so needed. This is the state of Hawai'i, and we don't have kids who really know about the ocean," said Malia Chow, a faculty researcher with the UH School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, also known as SOEST. "The whole idea is to get kids to learn about the ocean so they can become stewards of it, but have fun. And do it on the Hokule'a and University of Hawai'i research vessels. The only way to really learn about something is to be immersed in it."

The new program has been more than two years in the making and has grown from the vast body of knowledge gleaned by the voyaging canoe Hokule'a and the desire by the Polynesian Voyaging Society to move environmental education into a hands-on program that gives a broad new understanding of how to care for the resource that surrounds us.

"The idea is to give them their mathematics and physics and chemistry and biology at the same time, in conjunction with this hands-on learning experience," said Barry Raleigh, dean of SOEST. "So it's not strictly from the black-and-white of a book page."

Says Diana Oshiro, DOE assistant superintendent of the Division of Learner, Teacher and School Support: "If they're doing coastal mapping, a typical day could be a full day in the water. And that may go on for two or three days."

The problem-based learning program will look very little like a traditional school. If the school day runs into the night, said Oshiro, the students may use the laptop computers that come with the program to access course-work online.

Raleigh envisions the students working with graduate students in the SOEST program at UH, especially on senior research projects that may involve looking at environmental and conservation projects in Kane'ohe or Maunalua bays.

For example, on days of intense winter rain, the students may find themselves next to swirling windward streams, taking samples to find how heavy rainfall affects pollutants going into the waters. Or they may be aboard motorboats in the bays to discover how corals, plankton and reef fish are affected.

"The kids would start asking the right questions, and that's the purpose of this education," Raleigh said.

The program will begin as a pilot, using students who will be juniors in the fall. But the hope is to expand it to encompass all four years of high school, and also to expand to Neighbor Islands.

"It's an experiment. We may fall on our face with it, but we have to start somewhere," Raleigh said. The voyaging society "has a certain view of the kind of training kids should have around the water. We have a view about how science should be taught, and the DOE has people who really want to innovate and improve how science and math education are taught."

Graduates from the two year program would be ready to enroll in the global environmental science degree program that's part of SOEST.

The program is open to any public high school student on O'ahu, and the hands-on part would be supplemented with online course work. The final week of the fourth quarter will include an around-O'ahu cruise aboard Hokule'a.

For Thompson, this new adventure in education has been a longtime dream.

"The thing we need to care for the most is the future world of our children," he said. "If we don't do this, we're going to constantly trash this place. It's probably one of the most important issues for civilized man."

Beverly Creamer can be reached by e-mailing bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com.