• Alaka`ina Foundation

Maui Malama Kahakai

Paul Janes-Brown

Maui Weekly

POSTED: July 2, 2009


Twice each year, every grade at Kahului’s Pomaika‘i Elementary School takes a trip to the Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge to gather “art supplies.” The refuge is 250 acres with over 24 acres of coastal spring-fed wetlands, 103 acres of dunes and more than a mile-and-a-half of shoreline.


While collecting supplies, the students are also soaking in some science, math, history and health and wellness. The students collect, weigh and sort the debris and document their work utilizing digital cameras. Data is then collected and sent to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for analysis. Students are also taught mapping and take soil samples as part of their work planting native species.


The program is called “Maui Malama Kahakai,” or “Maui Take Care of the Ocean,” and involves the Maui Coastal Land Trust, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, The Digital Bus and Alaka‘ina Foundation.


A group of well-mannered fifth-graders talked about the project. All of them agreed that the thing that moved them the most was the knowledge that their actions were saving the lives of endangered species, such as the monk seals, sea turtles and birds. They had studied about how animals die from eating the debris.


“The cleanup helps save the land and makes our planet healthier,” said Sydney Green. “I used to litter, but ever since this project, I always pick up trash.”


The impact of what they are doing is becoming visible. “When we first got there, there was a lot of trash,” said Nicole Yuzon.


“Pick up the litter,” said Keely Takayama. “It’s sad that people are not caring. If no one cares about our beaches, then there won’t be any beaches anymore.”


They emphasized that small pieces are just as bad, if not worse, than big ones, because mother birds feed the tiny pieces of debris to their babies and they die.


To further communicate their alarm, the fifth grade produced a brochure, Don’t Be Bitter, Throw Away Your Litter, which contains a wealth of information about the amount and types of marine debris they have found, as well as several links for additional information. It’s written in an informal, accessible style and features their own photography and writing.


Eliza Wright talked about the effect of the information in the brochure. “I saw someone look at the brochure and their mouth dropped open.”


After the students have picked up the trash, they bring it back to school and transform it into art. Pomaika‘i is the first and only fully arts-integrated school in the state. Rae Takemoto, who is in charge of arts integration at Pomaika‘i, was so excited when Aloha Shares Executive Director Wilma Nakamura, one of the organizers of the Art of Trash show, called to suggest that the children’s work be included in the show at Maui Mall. This was the first time an entire school has been included in the show.


While the fifth grade was highly knowledgeable and articulate about the issues and the historical context of the refuge, Jennifer Emde’s kindergarten class was equally informed and passionate about what might happen if we don’t clean up after ourselves. They were very open about what they did for Art of Trash, were excited about the trash sculptures they had recently completed and were headed home that very day.


One of the most unique teaching techniques of the arts-integration approach to education is the use of drama in all subjects. Emde had her students “become” a piece of trash to feel what it was like. They constructed an entire history of how they got in the pile, inspected what they were made of and told stories about themselves. This technique releases the child’s creativity, placing it within an educational framework. Young people respond to this type of experiential learning—they will never forget the details of their journey.


Maui Malama Kahakai developed in 2007 when Emde and Takemoto took an arts-integration workshop at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center summer teacher institute. In that workshop there was a session entitled “Wouldn’t it be great if….” Takemoto said they developed the entire program during that session.


Often times, when this kind of visioning is done, an outline emerges, but the reality is quite different. I asked Takemoto about what adjustments had to be made to the program since the visioning session. She looked at me quizzically and said, “None. It’s exactly as we had envisioned it.”


There’s something amazing happening up there at the end of Kamehameha Street. A new paradigm of learning is being explored that will change the face of education in this state and perhaps in the nation. If you want to see something truly remarkable, get a visitor pass and walk around the hallways—you will be astounded by what you see.

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