Monday, June 4, 2001

Siblings Kawena (left) and Mahina Kaawa (right) picked
mangoes recently in the natural classroom of Hakipu'u Valley.

Hakipu‘u school
connects past
lessons to present

The charter school offers
hands-on studies in taro farming
as well as traditional classes

By Crystal Kua

In search of ho'i'o, or tender fern shoots, Calvin Hoe and a pack of kids encircling him traveled through the trails, pastures and hills of Hakipu'u, his ancestral homeland. It is a place of taro patches, fishponds and a meandering stream that shares its name.

Stretching from the mountain to the ocean, the Windward Oahu ahupuaa was a center for learning in ancient times, and Hoe is part of a group hoping to keep its education roots alive.

"It's an opportunity for us to do the things in education that we have dreamed about doing," said Hoe, a longtime educator.

That opportunity is now known as the Hakipu'u Learning Center, which officially became a public charter school last month.

Kaili Kaawa pulled mangoes from his picker in the valley.

Hawaii's law allows for up to 25 charter schools, which are public schools because they receive public money, but they are freed from many bureaucratic roadblocks.

In exchange for the flexibility, these schools enter into a charter with the Board of Education and promise to meet certain academic expectations.

The Hakipu'u school is starting from scratch and plans to open Sept. 4 with as many as 15 students each in the seventh and eighth grades. (One grade will be added each year through the 12th grade.)

Environmental education, science, math, language arts and Hawaiian culture will be at the curriculum's core.

"When they walk away from the fishpond, for example, they will have studied it from the math and the mapping of it, they will have studied it from the science of the chemistry and biology of it, they will have studied it from the stories, the mo'olelo, and the historical references of it. They will be able to even draw it or write about it in poetry or music," said Calvin's wife, Charlene, an elementary teacher at the Kamehameha Schools who is also part of the Hakipu'u planning group.

"You learn how to plant the taro, learn how to fish, learn how to take care of the fishpond, teach people how to take care of the land," Calvin Hoe said.

It is a place where learning and doing will be one and the same, and education will be the vehicle toward self-sufficiency. The lessons, for example, will connect the ancient technologies of fishponds or farming to present-day aquaculture.

"We're not necessarily out to make everybody taro farmers or fishermen," Calvin Hoe said. "Our school hopefully will give our students choices. If they want to go to the best Ivy League schools like Harvard, we want to prepare them for that. But if they want to be a fisherman or a farmer, we want to prepare them for that, too."

While the school has secured classroom space at Windward Community College, the Hakipu'u ahupuaa will provide the main outdoor learning centers such as a planned canoe hale, or house, at the ocean. A typical schedule could see students in traditional classrooms twice a week, the outdoor labs two days and in a technology lab one day. (The school has been awarded a technology grant for new computers and other digital equipment.)

"We're trying to provide a learning environment that actively uses the place as a teacher, that connects the students to the Hawaiian culture and traditions of this place in a way that has real application to their lives," Charlene Hoe said.

The school is currently recruiting teachers and students and will be setting up an informational table at Windward Mall in Kaneohe on Saturday from 10:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Applications can be picked up at the table or by contacting Meala Bishop at her e-mail address,, or in care of 47-200 Waihee Rd., Kaneohe 96744.

Charter school organizer Calvin Hoe helped Mahina Kaawa
negotiate the rugged terrain of Hakipu'u as they and a small
group propagated ferns and gathered mangoes.

The deadline to submit applications is June 25. Students will be selected for enrollment through a lottery at the end of the month.

Hakipu'u is located between Waikane and Kualoa and has been the home of Calvin Hoe's family for generations.

Calvin Hoe's dream of opening a school stems from his family's desire to pass on the knowledge of what Hakipu'u has to offer.

"We wanted to make sure the kids knew how special this was and know how to enjoy and thrive in this kind of place," said Hoe, who has a psychology degree and has taught in both the private and public schools.

The jewels of the land were shared within the family first, but now they want to share the knowledge to the broader community.

Early talks of starting educational programs in the area began between the Hakipu'u Ohana -- a loosely organized group of area families -- and Kualoa Ranch, which occupies much of the ahupuaa, the Hoes said.

"At least for me, the most exciting part is that it is something that was initiated by this community," said Teresa Makuakane-Drechsel, director of the Kamehameha Schools post-high school counseling program and member of the Hakipu'u planning group. "It's a way to revitalize the community."

The 20 or so individuals who are members of the planning group include many with backgrounds in working with children or educational organizations such as the Kamehameha Schools, the Queen Liliuokalani Children's Center and Kualoa Ranch.

When Hoe set out to find fern shoots and mango near the Hakipu'u stream, he pointed out to the kids who followed him the attractions of nature and how best to take care of the land, such as replanting more ferns.

"If we enlist our students to be caring about those things and to be part of finding solutions, they will make changes in the future," Charlene Hoe said.

The organizers decided to start the school at the seventh and eighth grade because that is where the needs of the community lie.

"The seventh and eighth grade is one of those periods that we seem to lose our students," Charlene Hoe said. "They go from the smaller, more nurturing elementary school environment to the bigger intermediate and high schools."

Hoe said the school is excited about the partnership with Windward Community College and the potential to tap the faculty and student resources there.

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