Kailua's hands-on civic lesson
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer
By Eloise Aguiar
KAILUA — Ka'u Kohatsu is looking forward to Monday, when she trades in her seat in a Kailua High School classroom for a chance to work at a Maunawili taro farm.
It's her way of giving back to the community and a chance to learn something about her Hawaiian culture that she couldn't experience by reading books.
"It's really cool to do this," said Ka'u, a 15-year-old freshman. "It really teaches all us kids more about community work and how we have to stick together, work together."
Her taro work is part of Kailua High's schoolwide Community Service Day when the entire student body — more than 1,000 students — will fan out from the Makapu'u lighthouse to Kane'ohe's Waikalua Loko Fishpond.
"I think it will bring our school closer. We're all talking about it. We can't wait for the day," she said.
Others students will be painting bleachers, clearing land for new taro fields, collecting litter on beaches and trails, and educating incoming students about life on campus.
Some classes will follow the exercise by writing letters to the editor about trash on the beaches and the war in Iraq.
Teeyanee Williams, a freshman, said she looks forward to learning about the legends and animals that are prevalent in Kawai Nui Marsh, where she will clear grass and will plant native species. Teeyanee, 14, said other students weren't looking forward to getting dirty and digging in the ground, but she was.
"We get to give to the community," she said. "For school we get credit, and it's fun."
AT THE HEIAU
Chuck Burrows, who is organizing the students at Ulupo Heiau, said they will help restore ancient taro fields, build a walkway and weed an existing taro patch.
Thousands of students from around the island have visited the site and use it as a laboratory of learning, but this will be the first time the school has taken an interest in it, Burrows said, adding that he is pleased to have the students because they have a stake in the marsh and are its future protectors.
They need to learn about the valuable resource and the rich culture there, he said.
"It's important because our youth is very important to our community," Burrows said.
Nikki Brethour, a junior who will go with about 60 students to clean part of Kailua Beach, said she likes the idea of having a cleaner beach, even though she would have preferred doing a campus activity. The 17-year-old will be part of a four-person team that will collect and record the different types of trash, document the findings and send the information to the Ocean Conservancy, a national nonprofit.
The school's social studies department is organizing the day to match the students' curriculum while planting the seeds of civic and social responsibility, said Amber Strong, a social studies teacher.
'GO OUT, MAKE CHANGES'
With social studies being less about memorizing dates and names and more about social justice, the focus of the department has changed from when students learned history only, Strong said.
Community Service Day reflects that change, she said.
"We're teaching people information about history and social sciences so people are empowered and they can go out and make changes in the world," she said.
Originally, students didn't embrace the idea of the service day. But as they realized this is about their island and where they grew up, the attitudes changed.
"They're changing their way of thinking from 'this is something we have to do' to 'we're going to do something people are going to be proud of.'"
TALK TO YOUNGER KIDS
Preston Nakata, a 16-year-old junior, will team with other students and visit the Waimanalo intermediate school. He'll talk to the students about what to expect at high school.
"There's more studying," said Preston. "You can't just make up stuff. You gotta know the work."
He said sports helped him make the transition and he'll be encouraging new students to take up sports.
Many of the students will head off campus but some juniors and all of the seniors have projects at the school. The juniors will be packing boxes of goodies for soldiers serving in Iraq and the seniors will be painting the school bleachers and getting the football field ready for new sod.
"Because we're leaving, we wanted to do something to give back to the school and make it nice for graduation," said Christina Shelton, an 18-year-old senior.
She said that working together makes it less burdensome and more fun and that she considers the idea to be a good one.
"It's good because our community needs the help," she said.
Every student will have something to do. Those in the special- education classes will be supplying water to the senior working outside, said Cy Ohta, head of the social studies department.
"They're integrating among their peers and not separated ... and it will give our kids a chance to appreciate what they're doing for them," Ohta said. "Overall I think it will help build harmony within the school."
WHAT: KAILUA HIGH SCHOOL'S COMMUNITY SERVICE DAY
Who: The school's entire student body, more than 1,000 students
Purpose and projects: As a way of giving back to the community, students will paint bleachers, clear land for taro fields and weed an existing taro patch, collect litter, educate incoming students about life at Kailua High, build a walkway and pack boxes of goodies for soldiers serving in Iraq.
Reach Eloise Aguiar at firstname.lastname@example.org.