Service Learning in Hawaii, Part Two: Fertile Soil

August 24, 2013


A student constructed Hale at Molokai Middle School

An overnight in Molokai proved to be a wonderful experience. During numerous service learning sessions in Honolulu, Jennifer Ainoa and I had often discussed how I simply had to visit Molokai. Quite true. Each island is unique of course. Molokai has a natural beauty and has less of a commercial imprint than other islands I have seen. No fast food restaurants. Many roads require four-wheel drive. No internet in the hotel (ouch). And a necessary event is heading down a dark alley after 8:30 pm to purchase legendary fresh made Molokai bread.

Some know of Molokai for the Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) colony at Kalaupapa founded in 1866. The island also is known for the world’s highest sea cliffs, and the delicious purple sweet potatoes and taro grown in the volcano soil.

While there are several middle schools, there is one middle and high school on the island. Jennifer guided a well-planned day. The morning was spent with nine educators including a high school teacher (and librarian, who dropped by) reviewing essential skills for learning and sequences to develop these skills from Strategies for Success. We also clarified how these skills have direct connection with service learning. For example, understanding the dynamics of support during a lesson on Class Agreements becomes a key element in recognizing how to be supportive with group work when implementing service plans.

We also spent time examining the process of service learning and confirming the rigor this adds to any classroom content. And they wrote a collaborative definition of service learning: three groups each wrote their own definition in ten works (or less) with an image. The result when combined:

“Service Learning is an opportunity to demonstrate learning through action and compassion . . .with Change that involves awareness, supporting our community, and building knowledge and literacy . . . and through these valuable experiences, we gain knowledge that changes the world.”

Our afternoon session on Advancing Service Learning with the entire Molokai Middle School faculty began with Principal Gary Davidson reflecting on the cultural and community values on Molokai that make service learning a natural and critical part of the education of their 200 students. And the school has a history to build on. One of the impressive service learning initiatives is a Hale, an outdoor gathering place built by 7th graders. They worked collaboratively, getting their hands dirty, using a traditional dry stack process with the rocks, no mortar. The posts are harvested wild mangrove, an invasive species—repurposing what is actually a weed. This construction connected social studies and science.

During our sessions, teachers were quick to find topics of import that could weave into the curriculum leading to students participating in collaborative action. One social studies teacher approached me after stating that people know of Molokai for the aforementioned colony at Kalaupapa. He would like students to create a publication that tells the story of the other communities on the island, such as Maunaloa and Kalawoa. This led to a conversation about In Our Global Village, a program initiated by students writing a book about their village in Kamba ya Simba and now including more than 30 student-authored books written in more than ten countries in response. (Learn more about this program at In Our Global Village, and read the original books.)

As these days unfold I am struck by the genuine way service learning fits each locale. Each of these islands has extensive history of community coming together to help neighbor to neighbor. Service learning grows from this foundation. The soil on Molokia, and throughout Hawaii, is deep rusty red or even darker from the volcanic ash. The plants that emerge have rich flavors. As service learning continues to take root, the student growth is surely to be as rich and vibrant.