By Léo Azambuja
Over the decades, native Hawaiians and long-time residents across the Hawaiian Islands have seen untouched environments being replaced with neighborhoods, resorts, malls, military bases and industrial plants.
Although the visitor industry has forever changed Kaua‘i’s North Shore, its community has played an important role in planning the North Shore’s future for more than 40 years, fighting to preserve its beauty and way of life. And the Ahupua‘a Explorations, a new, free after-school program, may just help to continue this by teaching children about their natural and cultural environments.
“If people know about their environment, they’ll take care of it,” said a program volunteer from Wainiha, who goes simply by Mu.
About 200 years ago, during the reign of King Kaumuali‘i, the island was divided into five moku, or districts, each containing several ahupua‘a, pieces of land usually delineated from mauka to makai, or mountain to the ocean, like a pie slice.
Ahupua‘a Explorations will teach up to 25 children from fifth to sixth grade about watershed concepts using outdoor learning, hands-on science activities focused on ahupua‘a models and community service projects within the Halele‘a Moku, which goes from Ke‘e Beach to Kalihiwai.
“Do you know your place? And do you know your role in it?” said Maka‘ala Ka‘aumoana, who as a child heard the same questions from her mother. Now, as the executive director of the Hanalei Watershed Hui, she wants the children to find their own answers.
“What is your place in your place? That’s what I want the kids to hear,” she said.
Along with the Hanalei Watershed Hui, the other three principal partners planning and executing the program are the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources — Division of Aquatic Resources.
A teacher, an assistant teacher, volunteers and about 20 experts in several fields will guide the children twice a week during the spring semester on Tuesday and Thursday from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., and summer, on the same days, but from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“I want to help the kids to discover the whole variety of environments that exist around them at all times,” said Meryl Abrams, the kumu, or teacher, of the program.
Holding a masters degree in environmental education, she said she wants the children to learn about the mountains, streams, ocean, reefs, ponds, ethnobotany, native birds and how ancient Hawaiians built shelters. Basically, she said, the kids will be exposed to science in a fun way.
“Hopefully they’ll go to middle school and high school and want to include more science into their studies,” Abrams said.
The curriculum includes ocean safety; equipment operation; collection and evaluation of data from weather, climate, water quality, wildlife, fish spawning, inundation, hazard and beach sand; map making; interpretation of aerial and satellite photography; remote sensing understanding; report writing and verbal presentations.
Program coordinators also hope professionals will take some of the elements of the place-based Ahupua‘a Explorations curriculum and incorporate them into regular classrooms, and that the concept will spread to other parts of the island.
Abrams said there are a lot of cultural pieces to the program. Besides science experts, several kupuna, or elderly, will be involved in it.
“We definitely plan on getting science experts from their individual fields to teach the kids, but we want to get the Hawaiian community involved as much as possible,” said Abrams, adding several people are lined up to spend time with the children.
Some children were already committed as early as December.
“I love nature so much, I love being outside,” 11-year-old Leela Henderson said. Even as a baby, she said, she loved going outside. But Leela is also in it to learn more about water and nature, and she likes making new friends.
Kala‘e Abrams, 11, said he recently took part in a mentoring group.
“Every week, we’ve done some intense hikes,” he said. One of these hikes included walking seven miles to a waterfall, he said.
“I just want to learn more about what I’m hiking through,” said Kala‘e, Meryl Abrams’ son.
Assistant teacher Brandon Kitch said his role in the program will help him to officially graduate high school. Ahupua‘a Explorations, he said, is unique because many programs don’t teach about the place where we live. But this program will have “long-lasting effects” on the children because they will learn about their environment.
“Also, I think it’s really fun for the kids, so they’ll learn more,” Kitch said.
Ka‘aumoana said the idea for the program came from everyone involved. There are limited after-school activities on the North Shore, she said, aside from some of the best surf on the planet.
The children will meet many experts, who may benefit as well. Ka‘aumoana said some of these experts spend a lot of time in an office, and they love the opportunity to go outside and get on the ground and teach.
The teaching, she said is open enough that some of it will be guided by what the children ask.
“We don’t want to stay between the four corners of a piece of paper,” Ka‘aumoana said.
The program is free and open for children from the entire island, grades five to six. But the spring term may be tricky for children beyond the North Shore to attend, because of the hours, right after school finishes.
Ahupua‘a Explorations starts Jan. 12. Contact Ka‘aumoana at email@example.com or call 826-1985 for more information.