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  • Writer's pictureAlaka`ina Foundation

No Child Left Inside

By Hellen Anne Schonwalter

Maui Weekly

POSTED: August 18, 2007

Inquiry-based, place-based science program benefits Maui’s schoolchildren.

“I’m very fortunate to have this teaching job,” said Ellen Federoff, education outreach specialist at Alaka‘ina Foundation, the nonprofit organization responsible for the Digital Bus.

Officially called Hawaiian Source Education Outreach (HSEO), this mobile science and technology lab has designed and implemented science projects to benefit underserved Hawaiian K-12 schoolchildren and their teachers. The beauty of the concept is its expanded training and development of teachers here in Maui to enable our students to learn technology and become competitive in jobs here in Hawai‘i.

“I see the enthusiasm when kids get outside of the classroom and see places they have never seen before” said Federoff, a former sixth grade teacher with a Masters Degree in teaching.

Starting in 2005, the summer project involved children from Kihei Youth Center and King Kekaulike High School. They ventured into the murky wetland of Pu‘u Ola‘i, then a dump needing cleanup and restoration. The kids, ages 8-18, with parent chaperones, did the dirty work and learned the technology to upload data, make an iMovie, and give PowerPoint presentations to the community.

Parents and kids learn how to use GPS – geographic positioning systems. They walk a determined length of transect and take longitude and latitude readings which are entered into the hand held GPS unit. Earnestly engaged in learning, the kids download the data in the classroom by typing it into Mac computers. The software creates the navigational maps.

“Kids are on-task, lovin’ it! They can’t do enough of it!” enthused Federoff.

Both summer and follow-up workshops for teachers are conducted by Alaka‘ina, and Federoff supports teachers with mid-year follow-up workshops.

Besides science, kids learn stewardship—not always a happy coincidence.

“Returning to Pu‘u Ola‘i in the summer of 2006, the kids saw that the wetland was dry,” said Federoff. “The aquifer had been pumped dry by the mauka-side development.”

The Waihe‘e Project started that summer when Maui Waena Intermediate School in Kahului and Kalama Middle School in Makawao joined Maui Coastal Land Trust’s (MCLT) Waihe’e Restoration Project. Teachers attended a three-day workshop and designed their own projects.

“We keep it really flexible and support teachers to meet Hawai‘i Science and Math Performance Standards, their interests and teaching styles,” said Federoff.

This partnership with MCLT, through the B-WET grand, funds the geographic information systems (GIS) software used for mapping and the GPS units. All the equipment, transportation to the site and classroom computers are funded by grants.

MCLT, under the dedicated leadership of Scott Fisher, project manager at the Waihe‘e Restoration site, has uncovered ancient fishponds, heiau, burial sites, the old dairy and ecologic changes in the dune formations.

“This is place-based learning that is meaningful to our school population,” said Federoff.

Emphasizing the sustainability of these projects, Federoff added, “Teachers get the initial field support, curriculum kits and use of digital cameras. They can return on their own to sustain the project.”

Federoff does the training and follow-up almost single-handedly. “But Maui Community College students in Frannie Coopersmith’s Marine Science Bachelor’s program volunteer as assistants in field studies, as Project S.E.A. Link volunteers, and in a partnership with Masui Ocean Center aquarium, give students a chance to study fish in the Coral Critters Project.”

As for the future, if funds don’t also dry up, “It is my hope to have underwater cameras tethered to 100-foot cable that allow live streaming of images into the classroom,” said Federoff.

She could be designing this curriculum right now if she weren’t buried by mountains of paperwork tracking students, schools, organizations: “121 projects, 18 groups, and 30 schools to be exact. I’m now tracking for OHA [Office of Hawaiian Affairs] the percentage of Hawaiian children being served by these grants,” said Federoff, “including kids from Moloka‘i, Lana‘i, Hana, and Waihe’e kids.”

Alaka‘ina is under the auspices of Akimeka Tech, a Native Hawaiian organization. While “Akimeka” is a Hawaiian-ized name with lore related to Kamehameha III, its literal translation is the name “Archimedes,” meaning “perseverance.” This word aptly describes Ellen Federoff, who loves the teaching, outreach and development aspects of her job and dutifully writes and tracks grants that support projects from Waihe’e to Pu‘u Ola‘i.

For more information about Digital Bus, call (808) 874-9651 or email



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