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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Small school, big example

Video: Students practice environmental stewardship
Photo gallery: Kawaiahao school cares for aina

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Christian Yasuoka-Lee adds moistened newspaper strips to a compost bin. Students have built recycling bins and even developed natural cleansers.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Aloha 'Aina tips from the Kawaiaha'o Church School newsletter:

  • Use reusable bags instead of plastic bags.

  • Buy local, fresh foods.

  • Use foil instead of plastic wrap.

  • Buy in bulk; wrap smaller portions in foil instead of buying individually wrapped products.

  • Choose aluminum cans instead of plastic bottles when possible or carry your own refillable stainless-steel travel mug.

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    Students at Kawaiaha'o Church School start every school day with a pledge.

    It's not just the usual pledge to the U.S. flag that most children recite in the morning. It's a pledge of allegiance to the Earth.

    And it's an example of how the private Christian-based school of about 125 students from preschool to fifth grade has taken environmental education to another level.

    Not only is the school maintaining an outdoor garden landscape of mostly native Hawaiian plants, but students with the help of parents and teachers built recycling bins on campus and developed environmentally friendly cleaning products. Students also sold reusable grocery bags to help raise money for the construction of water wells in Africa.

    "It's a way of life here that we try to instill in the children and family not just something you do at school, but becoming a way of life," said Wailani Robins, school director of programs and development.

    All these efforts earned the school the Moanalua Gardens Foundation 2008 Hawai'i Needs Care Award, which recognizes student involvement in projects supporting sustainable island communities.

    "This project illustrates how one school can make a huge difference by educating our communities about responsible environmental stewardship while, at the same time, helping others less fortunate than us," said Alex Alika Jamile, Moanalua Gardens Foundation executive director and president.


    Such lessons about environmental stewardship are not lost on the children.

    Kalehuakea Kelling, a first-grader, was eager to talk about the subject.

    "Organic is good for the land and ocean," she said.

    The school's efforts to make positive changes to the environment began a couple of years ago, when students, families, faculty and even businesses worked to create an outdoor garden setting of which almost 90 percent is native Hawaiian plants, Robins said.

    Children learn to cultivate the plants and learn about the plants' genetic makeup and cultural uses, Robins said. The garden last year got the attention of the Virginia-based National Wildlife Federation, which recognized the school as Hawai'i's first National Wildlife Federation-certified schoolyard habitat.

    The school's efforts grew last year with a focus on a "recycle, reduce and reuse" program. Students started a composting project and built recycling bins on campus for ink cartridges, plastics and cans, with families collecting recyclables at their workplaces.

    Elementary students also developed, with the help of parents and teachers, environmentally friendly all-purpose cleanser and bug spray. Students created their own company name Hope Products and designed labels to market the products to parents, friends and members of the Kawaiaha'o Church congregation.

    The school also sold about 1,500 reusable grocery bags late last year to raise money for building water wells in Africa as part of the United Nations "Water for Life" Decade program, Robins said.


    The school is continuing that effort and is reordering 2,000 more bags, "because we want to continue that message of aloha 'aina and ... continue to help with as many water wells as we can," she said.

    Students also include "green" tips for families in the school newsletter.

    "With people's input and the excitement of staff and other administrators here on campus, it just took off," Robins said of the school's environmental efforts. "It really is the right thing to do."

    Fourth-grader Christian Yasuoka Lee said: "God gave us everything that we needed to survive, but now people are trying to take advantage of it.

    "Some people always think of what's happening right then, but you should be thinking about the future, like about your kids or your grandchildren."

    Reach Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com.