Celebrating Sustainability at Punahou for Earth Week

Since the 2005 Sustainability Summit convened by President Jim Scott '70 and the resulting Sustainability Challenge with its ambitious 10-year goals, the notion of what it means to educate for a sustainable future has evolved at Punahou. From a framework based on measurable institutional outcomes, such as reducing energy and water use by 50 percent, it has expanded to include the less tangible but arguably more lasting model of changing mindsets, behaviors and culture.

Watch this Kindergarten-produced video about an educational field trip at Kunia Country Farms, where they learned about aquaponics systems.

While the School has made important strides in redesigning its infrastructure to reduce and reuse resources – including the construction of several facilities that are nationally recognized models of green building – some of the most significant advances in educating for sustainability can be seen inside (and outside) the classroom. The campus community today is a living expression of the School's pursuit of this value, which is one of the Aims of a Punahou Education.

Third-graders plant 'uala (sweet potato) at the Sidney and Minnie Kosasa Community in preparation for the annual Third-Grade Lū'au.

On any given day, teachers and students K – 12 are engaged in countless activities designed to encourage sustainable awareness and behavior. They include many formal curricular programs such as the K – 1 focus on Mauka to Makai; the third-grade Hawaiian Studies curriculum with its emphasis on the connection between culture and environment; the K – 8 Outdoor Education program, with its service projects, nature field trips and overnight camps; and Academy courses like AP Environmental Science, which teaches real-world applications of contemporary social and environmental issues.

Watch this video where the Sustainable Living Club conducted a beach cleanup at Ala Moana Beach Park.

But sustainable values can also be found in numerous individual and collaborative faculty projects that connect learning in a specific area to broader ecological questions: a fourth-grade class studies the mechanics of leaky toilets and its students diagnose whether their homes have one; a middle-school social studies class does an inquiry project on the household toxin oxybenzone and creates a series of educational videos to raise awareness on the topic; ninth-grade biology students propagate ohi'a trees and make educational posters to be shared at Holoku, where the ohi'a flower is used in lei; an Academy Hawaiian Culture class spends three days in Ka Papa Mala (Griffiths Garden) cultivating kalo and understanding how it embodied the traditional Hawaiian relationship to the land; students in Japanese honors take an in-depth look at Japan's innovative recycling efforts; a physics class studies how sunlight is transformed by photovoltaics into an electric current ... and the list goes on.

Academy Hawaiian Culture students learn about the environmental and cultural significance of kalo in Ka Papa Mala (Griffiths Garden).

And then there are the extracurricular activities: Key Club members help build trails and propagate native plans at Pu'u o Manoa (Rocky Hill); each Earth Day, JROTC cadets participate in a cleanup of Ft. DeRussy; this Earth Week, the Academy Sustainable Lifestyles Club will run Chapels to educate their peers; and next month, the first-ever student run Sustainability Fair will bring this popular day-long celebration back to campus in a renewed format. These are just a surface sampling of the wealth of learning flourishing at Punahou midway through the spring semester. One can visualize the campus as an endlessly bubbling spring of opportunities for children (and adults) to deepen their appreciation for the natural world and develop the skills to sustain it. "Sustainability as a value is embedded in our learning environments and through the work of our amazing teachers," reflects Carri Morgan, director of Luke Center for Public Service.

In the words of Senegalese leader Baba Dioum, "In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught." This idea sums up the power of our students' experiences. In many more ways than we can measure, they are learning to understand and love what is worth protecting in the world around them.