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Second-grader Heleonahe Tomita and her classmates identify kalo plants at different stages of their life cycle as part of Kumu Alexis Kageyama’s Kupa ʻĀina-Based Science class at Māhele Lalo.

ʻĀina-Based Learning Helps Haumāna Grow Deep Roots to the Land

E Ola! Curriculum

Sept. 22, 2022

With clipboard in hand, second-grader Heleonahe Tomita hovered over a tiny kalo leaf emerging from the garden bed in the Māla Aʻo ʻo Kaʻuʻuku at Māhele Lalo. Among the flourishing kalo plants — some almost as tall as her — she’d been looking for the smallest one she could find.

“I think this is a keiki,” Tomita said, pointing to the leaf with her pencil.

As part of Kumu Alexis Kageyama’s second-grade science class, haumāna were identifying and drawing plants in different stages of their life cycle. While a few other haumāna were crouched in front of a yellowed and withering kalo leaf, Tomita remained focused on the young sprout, examining its proportions and drawing it on her worksheet.

When asked how old she thought it was, she said, “Maybe a few weeks?”

Kumu Kageyama is no stranger to Māhele Lalo haumāna. For a few years now she’s taught ʻāina lessons on the small māla nestled alongside Kauikeaouli. But now she’s the Māhele Lalo science kumu and is tying in ʻāina-based learning with her overall science curriculum. Kageyama’s move to this new position is part of a much larger campus-wide focus on ʻāina-based learning.

“Science and ʻāina go hand in hand,” Kageyama said. “We had a unique opportunity to redesign the science curriculum so it’s not typical classroom learning.”

She and the ʻāina-based learning team are calling the approach Kupa ʻĀina-Based Science. Kupa o ka ‘āina is someone who is intimately familiar with the land. “And that’s what we want our haumāna to be,” Kageyama said. “By integrating science, culture and ʻāina together, we hope to help haumāna develop the same love for ʻāina as their kūpuna.”

Having students be outdoors, working with their hands in the māla, and learning by doing is critical in the Kupa ʻĀina approach, especially in the critical early years when haumāna are still building their relationship to the land of our ancestors.

“Science has always done that — learning by doing — but it was doing in a classroom setting. We know that our kūpuna learned by doing while outside on the ʻāina — ma ka hana ka ʻike. That’s the direction that we want our haumāna to go in,” she said.

There’s still more to accomplish across the KS Maui campus to move curriculum in the direction of ʻāina-based learning, said Hōkūao Pellegrino, sustainability and ʻāina-based learning coordinator for KS Maui. But the baby steps, like Kageyama’s science class, are encouraging, he said.

“As we grow our other division programs with Hawaiian thematic units, ʻike Hawaiʻi, ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, this is really going to give our haumāna a strong Hawaiian Culture-Based Education foundation,” Pellegrino said.

On the horizon, Pellegrino’s team is looking to partner with kumu in Māhele Luna (6-12) to build out more integration of subject matter with ʻāina-based opportunities. Already the Upper Division haumāna have access to a greenhouse, Hale Uliulimau, and huakaʻi opportunities through our many Maui community partners. Plus, a new kumu, ʻIwikauikaua Joaquin, has joined the team to help support building ʻāina integration with other subject matter.

“We have a lot of kumu wanting to jump on board. We’ve only been around for three years, so the program is still in its infancy. But we’re seeing growth, and that’s encouraging for the future,” Pellegrino said.

Kumu Alexis Kageyama is the new science teacher at Māhele Lalo and she’s bringing an ‘āina-based approach to teaching and learning this year.

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