On a warm Monday morning earlier this month, 23 educators from schools throughout Hawaii and beyond gathered at the entrance of Mala‘ai: The Culinary Garden of Waimea Middle School, joined hands, and recited the “Hea Hea Ka Leo” (lift up your voice) chant of entrance together, followed by two minutes of silence in the garden to “turn on their senses.” Thus began the three-day Ku ‘Aina Pa teacher training program for school learning gardens held June 9-11, now in its third year.
Originally developed by Nancy Redfeather, Amanda Rieux, and Dr. Ming Wei Koh in 2012, the program curriculum has expanded this year to meet specific needs voiced by teachers, while still building on the original foundations. A USDA grant seeded the program and the founders continue to meet weekly.
In contrast to the past two years, where the program was comprised primarily of school learning garden teachers, the majority of the teachers this year were classroom teachers, who participated to discover activities and lessons to engage their students.
“Teachers are really making the connections between core curriculum and hands-on, garden-based learning. They are increasingly ‘reflective’ and deep thinkers who want to integrate this learning into their classrooms at very meaningful levels,” said Redfeather, director of The Kohala Center’s Hawaii Island School Garden Network. “It is very rewarding for us as the KAP team to have such commitment from these teachers.”
Sessions helped educators to deepen basic garden skills, further develop curriculum through presentations, teach STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and common core lessons in garden activities, and use Lifelab’s “The Growing Classroom” and database, all with hands-on work in the Mala‘ai Culinary Garden. Participants learned about soil, how to make a compost pile, vermiculture (the raising and production of earthworms and their by-products), water and where it comes from, how to use mulch, the best ways to use and care for garden tools, and proper seeding in the nursery.
Reflecting back on the three days, Casey Hulten, a science teacher at Waiakea Intermediate School in Hilo said, “The most valuable thing I’ve learned is that anyone can make a garden. There’s not necessarily a right or a wrong way and the key is letting go and letting the students do it.”
“Almost anything we are going to teach can be done in the garden,” she added.
Redfeather also emphasized the importance of putting the responsibility on the children in garden classes.
“We can’t be afraid of having the children build the garden themselves,” she said. “It changes them and it’s very powerful. Children have been disconnected from hands-on learning. It’s okay to mess up. Experiment, experiment, experiment.”
Koh, the sustainability garden facilitator at Hawaii Preparatory Academy, put a new spin on how science, technology, engineering, and mathematics classes can be taught, encouraging educators to allow their students to be “passionately curious,” wonder how things work, and be creative.
“For students, inquiry leads to discovery,” Koh said.
She also demonstrated ways to weave music into lesson plans with songs played on the ukulele with whimsical, garden-centered lyrics.
“I enjoyed the hands-on learning and the opportunities to talk about theory and have it applied,” commented Tricia Lizama, a professor of social work at University of Guam. “My favorite part was meeting everyone, learning and hearing what other people are doing, and how they can adapt some of these activities.”
Mac MacLaird, the garden teacher at Kamaile Academy in Waianae, Oahu, found the program invaluable.
“I will bring back a brand new curriculum, new relationships with our sister schools, and new seeds to plant,” he said.
Looking towards future intensive programs, Rieux, garden educator for Mala’ai Culinary Garden, said, “As this movement grows, I see more collaboration between people from different schools with different skill sets. There is momentum. Some of our greatest presenters for this course are former Ku ‘Aina Pa participants. Their knowledge and skills to use learning gardens as relevant, engaging, living classrooms for our students is growing.”
“We’re not done here. We’re just getting started,” Redfeather said.
Those interested in participating in the Ku ‘Aina Pa program next year, or seeking information on other upcoming Hawaii Island School Garden Network events, can learn more at http://kohalacenter.org/hisgn.