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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Growing taro and learning

 •  Genetic taro talks resume at Capitol
Photo gallery: Hakipu‘u Learning Center
StoryChat: Comment on this story

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Hakipu'u Learning Center eighth-graders Darian Kaneaiakala, left, and Kelia Carreira plant taro at the school's lo'i in Ha'iku Valley.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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As about a dozen students from Hakipu'u Learning Center made their way through Ha'iku Valley to the Waipao Lo'i, they wore shirts expressing their school's motto: "Ma ka hana ka 'ike," or "The learning is in the doing."

On a weekly basis, the group of students, ranging from seventh- to 12th-graders, spend nearly a full school day cultivating taro with their teacher Calvin Hoe, whose family founded the public charter school in Kane'ohe eight years ago. It's this type of project-based learning that sets Hakipu'u and other Hawaiian-focused public charter schools apart from traditional schools.

"It might look like we're just being farmers, but we're still learning. We get it in a different way," said Dillon Rainwater, a junior at Hakipu'u, as he used a shovel to till soil.

For these students, the weekly excursion to the lo'i is an opportunity to integrate the lessons they learn while in the classroom — from algebra to Hawaiian studies to botany. And it's this formula of integrated learning that the students say is helping them succeed.

About 80 percent of the students at Hakipu'u are Native Hawaiian and most of the students have come to the school after having unsuccessful experiences in traditional public schools, Hoe said.

"We needed to find the way they learn best, and I think we're on to something," he said. "We needed to provide them with something relevant."

A recent study conducted by Kamehameha Schools found that Native Hawaiian students tend to have higher standardized test scores when they attend a Hawaiian-focused charter school versus a standard public school.

Charlene Hoe, an administrator at Hakipu'u, said she believes that's because Hawaiian-focused charter schools not only engage students in core subjects, but help them make connections with the Hawaiian culture. She also said charter schools provide students with a more intimate, tailored learning environment.

"We are very small with a good-size staff who are directly involved in each student's studies. It would be really hard for students to fall through the cracks," she said.

Before enrolling at Hakipu'u last year, eighth-grader Darian Kaneaiakala said she felt lost in the traditional classroom environment. In larger classes, Kaneaiakala said she couldn't get the type of personal assistance she needed.

"Math classes are better. There are more activities to use what we learn," Kaneaiakala.

That's where Hoe comes in. Every visit to the lo'i is filled with opportunities for the students to use their problem-solving skills.

"I want them to learn how to learn and I want them to enjoy learning," Hoe said. "A place like the taro patch — it's a beautiful place to learn."

Using a long tape measure, several of the students measured out the square footage of a small taro patch that needed to be fertilized.

Then Hoe, known to the kids as Uncle Calvin, presented a problem that got the students' minds working.

"OK, OK, we need 40 pounds of fertilizer for 1,000 square feet," he says. "We only have half a bucket of fertilizer. A bucket holds 20 pounds. So how much?" he asked.

The algebra question got some of the kids discussing ways to solve the problem while others tried to do math in their heads.

"This definitely engages the kids. Otherwise, what? They'd be sitting bored in a class," Hoe said.

Hoe also said project-based curriculum, which extends to everything from art to language, is a way to let the students take responsibility for their own learning.

Kelia Carreira, an eighth-grader, recently transferred from King Intermediate to Hakipu'u. She said she prefers her new learning environment.

Carreira said she has a more hands-on learning style, which wasn't being met in the traditional classroom. She also said the distractions of a big school left her unmotivated to do homework or even go to school.

"The interaction and the people — it makes me want to come to school," she said.

Reach Loren Moreno at lmoreno@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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