A Hā Moments- Breakthroughs in Learning and Living from Hawaii - Place-based Learning And Community Engagement by Dr. Tammy Jones

My name is Tammy Jones and I work for an organization called PLACES, which stands for Place-based Learning And Community Engagement in Schools.  We work with schools on the Waiʻanae Coast, supporting teachers and students in place-based learning projects and experiences.

I am excited to share just one of the many success stories from the Waiʻanae Coast: the story of the Nanakuli ʻAʻaliʻi.

The 19 students in the class, from both the Intermediate and High School, were all repeating a grade or two.  The DOE has an acronym for students who are in the credit recovery stage: CSAP - Comprehensive School Alienation Program.  From the very start we worked to rebrand ourselves as the ʻAʻaliʻi, representing the most resilient native plant in Hawaii.  These students were going to have to be resilient, to “bounce back” from previous challenges in order to move ahead and be successful.

These students had already shown that traditional schooling didnʻt work for them.  Simply moving through the content standards was not going to engage them.  We needed to start with building relationships, strengthening their Sense of Belonging to this group and their larger community.  I worked closely with the two ʻAʻaliʻi teachers to provide more authentic learning experiences through place, and we began going to Kaʻala Farm in Waiʻanae every Thursday.  

At first it was a challenge for them to engage and to even see this as a way to learn (and not just be a form of child labor!).  It was a challenge because it was new.  Uncle Eric Enos shared stories of Kaʻalaʻs history, specifically their challenges with water access.  Eventually, the ʻAʻaliʻi recognized that they had the power to transform this place and they were being trusted with something great - Ericʻs vision and their communityʻs future.  During the first semester students spent time exploring the water source, working with Eric and Ka’ala Farm staff to roll out the water lines and began building a fishpond ecosystem.  Nanakuli Ali‘i Highlight Video.

These were not the same apathetic kids we started with!

While in class, students studied fishponds, the history of water in their ahupuaʻa, and were moved to co-write a resolution regarding water diversions in the community after researching water policy issues in the State Constitution. They presented this resolution at the Wai’anae Coast Neighborhood Board where it passed with majority votes, and was recently adopted by the Hawaiian Civics Clubʻs Oahu Council.  PLACES students present Water Resolution

Had these students not engaged with place, they would not have seen a connection between what they learned in the classroom and how they could use it to positively make an impact in their community -- which empowered them and gave them a new sense of pride and a new identity.

Had these students not engaged with place, they would not have developed a greater appreciation for Hawaiiʻs history, language, culture, and diversity by directly connecting with it, and not just reading about it.

Had these students not engaged with place, they would not have had a new and increased Sense of Belonging or Sense of Hawaii.  One of the boys felt such a strong connection to his community and this work that he took an opportunity to do an internship at MAʻO Farms over his Spring Break, which then allowed him to “try out” during the Summer internship.  Students who are accepted become employed by MAʻO and have their Associate Degree paid for.  No surprise that he was accepted and is about to start college and study audio engineering.

And I strongly believe that had the 14 Seniors in this group had not engaged with place in such a meaningful way, they would not have graduated -- which they all did.  

Thank you so much for listening to their story.


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Author: Bond-Upson, Deborah 107stories and lessons created

Original Release: Aug 06, 2017

Updated Last Revision: Sep 01, 2017

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Story by Dr. Tammy Jones of PLACES, Place-Based Learning And Community Engagement in Schools.

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"Place-based Learning And Community Engagement by Dr. Tammy Jones" AwesomeStories.com. Aug 06, 2017. Feb 17, 2019.
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