Category Archives: Schools

Hawaii Robotics: ‘Kids Don’t Want To Go Home!’

Art Kimura, who’s been called Hawai‘i’s “Father of Robotics,” has a lot of enthusiasm for promoting Hawaii Robotics programs in our schools.

We talked to him about what sorts of careers Robotics sometimes leads children toward, the exciting state and world championships the kids compete in, and what’s going on with access to the programs.

This is the second part of a two-part series on the subject. Read Part 1 here.

Q. What do children learn from Robotics, and what sort of careers are those skills useful in?

Art Kimura: It definitely leans toward engineering and computer science. Those are the two high-level occupations that we’ve seen many kids strive for as a result of Robotics. I think one real strong piece of evidence, although it’s never been studied well enough to say this is definitely it, is that the University of Hawai‘i College of Engineering enrollment has nearly doubled since Robotics started.

Nobody’s done a study on it but we kind of see the linkage because if you interview the students there, many of them say, “Yeah, I was on this Robotics team or that Robotics team.”

It’s also well documented that many girls will say, “I’m an engineer because of Robotics.” In other words, they never thought of it until they joined the Robotics team and then the light bulb went on. “Hey, I can do this.”

Tell me about the Pan Pacific VEX Championships that were just held here.

We were in the Kamehameha Schools gym and we had 88 teams playing and hundreds of parents and other supporters. It was an awesome ‘ohana of Kamehameha faculty and students who provided the venue and services, from the opening 60-plus dancers who showcased Hawai‘i’s culture to the concluding final matches on Sunday.

Hawaii robotics

The place was so loud with the parents cheering and the music blaring out and excited MCs calling the matches, students dancing in the stands. You could hardly hear each other talking, even if you were sitting next to each other. It was just like a sporting event.

Is it an annual championship?

We used to have it annually and then we stopped for a couple of years for different reasons. The reason this was reignited is we had a discussion at Hawaiian Electric Company.

Hawaiian Electric has a partnership with Okinawa Enetech, which is the utility on Okinawa. They’re trying to learn from each other. The Okinawans were interested in what Hawai‘i Electric does in Hawai‘i in terms of STEM education.

Hawai‘i Electric has been long-time supporters of STEM education. They give money to support science fairs, they give money for many different causes in terms of STEM, and they’ve become a strong supporter of Robotics. Twenty years ago, they supported Waialua and they’re still supporting them today. They’re our title sponsor of our state VEX championship, so they have contributed not only funds but their volunteers also come out and support the tournament.

In that discussion we had with Hawaiian Electric, and because of their partnership with Okinawa Enetech, we thought we would bring back the Pan Pacific Championship as a means of trying to get this tournament held not only in Hawai‘i but also in other countries. The vision is this tournament that we just hosted will rotate to other countries, like an Olympic-style event, where it could be in China or it could be in Taiwan (but all in the Pacific Rim because that’s what our focus is).

By having teams come here, our kids can participate in an international competition and see how they measure up. A few years ago when we hosted it at the Hawai‘i Convention Center, we grew the tournament into the second largest tournament in the world. One hundred and twelve teams. We still consistently get 20 teams from China coming to that. China has thousands of VEX Robotics teams, probably approaching 5 or 6 thousand now.

Hawaii robotics

We have some sub-issues going on where we’re hoping this tournament will catalyze Okinawa. Right now, Okinawa has no VEX Robotics program because they have their own program. We’re trying to see if we can get into their system with this program and sort of selfishly, we would like our teachers here, who are really experts in this area, to be the trainers; to send them there to train the Okinawans.

We also had representatives from three Department of Defense schools, from Korea and Okinawa, at our tournament to see whether they can include that in the Department of Defense schools in Korea, Japan, the Philippines and other entities around the Pacific. Again, with our goal being our teachers will become the trainers.

We work very closely with the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation. They’re a non-profit and they organize all these VEX tournaments worldwide. Their president was the one who helped start our program back 20 years ago. He brought his team to Hawai‘i and helped us start.

Anyway, he offered us two world championship slots for our Pan Pacific Championship, so two teams would qualify for next April’s World VEX Championships in Louisville, Kentucky. We’re first in the world to qualify two teams.

Has Hawai‘i Robotics gone to the world championships before?

We went to that championship this past year with 31 of our Hawai‘i teams and it was absolutely amazing. The facility’s so large. Literally, I was walking 10 to 12 miles a day inside the building just to go visit the teams.

There will be probably about 25,000 people cheering on the kids next year and probably 1,000 teams competing from all over the world.

How did Hawai‘i do last year?

We do really well, but we don’t win the championship. It’s just difficult to get to that level, but our teams win trophies, they finish high. We’re proud of them when they do that. Several came home with trophies.

What’s coming up this year?

This year we have two different games. One game is called Starstruck. It’s a fun game where these stars get thrown back and forth across the field, these bean bags get thrown back and forth, and at the end of the game the robot climbs a pole.

The state high school championship, for the very first time, is going to be held here on the Big Island on January 5th at Kea‘au High School. It’s the start of some two dozen more IQ and VRC Robotics tournaments statewide. The VEX middle school state championship will be held at the new Stevenson Middle School STEM center on January 7, and the VEX IQ state championships for elementary and middle school will be held February 20 at the Hawai‘i Convention Center.

Robotics is something you don’t get until you see it, really. You don’t feel what the kids feel until you actually go to a tournament and see the excitement.

It’s really exciting. It’s the value of having fun while you’re learning. And when you ask the kids what they like about it, they come up with all kind of different reasons about what it’s teaching them.

What are the challenges?

One of our big challenges right now is access. Less than five percent of kids in Hawai‘i have access to participating on a Robotics team.

Representative Mark Nakashima really helped us this past year with legislation he got passed by the legislature. Several years ago, he sent money to the Department of Labor and initially they focused on things like agriculture. This past year, the Labor people contacted us about IT. In other words, how do you get more kids interested in IT kind of stuff?

We got access to that funding, and because of that we were able to increase statewide participation in VEX IQ 55 percent in a single year.

That kind of infusion of money really helps because I can go to a school and say, find me a mentor and we’ll provide all the resources for you.

It’s not a huge investment. Offering Konawaena Elementary three Robotics kits and a game field, the value is probably about $1,700. We’ve got 55 kids involved there. And everything is reusable except the new game, because every April a new game is announced. As far as the kit, though, you can use it year after year. Once you get the initial parts in the schools, they can sustain it on their own.

Why should people encourage their kids to get involved with Robotics?

It goes back to having kids learning life skills through this process. I think it’s a wonderful way – it engages them and it’s real to the students.

One major complaint I get from teachers about Robotics all the time is the kids don’t want to go home. It motivates them to do something on their own. It’s nothing that they’re forced to do and they don’t get graded on it. They do it as a club activity most of the time.

You never know, the experience could change their life. They never thought of engineering, they never thought of programming, but all of the sudden, the light bulb goes on and there it is.


Hawaii Robotics Teaches More Than Just Building Robots

Hawaii robotics enthusiast Art Kimura is the “Father of Robotics” in Hawai‘i. More officially, he’s Education Specialist at the University of Hawai‘i’s Hawai‘i Space Grant Consortium.

Hundreds of Big Island children, from elementary through high school, participate in Robotics. We talked to him about what exactly Robotics is, how it got started in Hawai‘i, and all the skills – some of them rather unexpected – that children learn from participating.

This is the first post of a two-part series.

Hamakua Springs: How would you describe Robotics to someone who isn’t familiar with it?

Art Kimura: When I talk to parents, I talk more about Robotics as a tool to teach students life skills. The life skills we try to impart are team work, problem solving, time management, communication and integrity.

To me, those are the most important things to get out of Robotics because they are applicable whether you become an engineer or in any other job you pursue in the future.

Robotics has grown enormously over the last 20 years because of two factors: First, the planners took advantage of what society values. What does society value the most, that gets the most media attention, gets the most money? It’s sports and entertainment. Robotics took advantage of that. It created sports-like games and at the tournaments they play music and have loud MCs.

And I really think Robotics is a social experience as well. Parents often ask me, “What kind of kit should I buy?” I tell them, “Don’t buy a Robotics kit for your child because they’ll get bored with it at home by themself.” It really is a social experience where having a group of people who can work together seems to energize them.

How long have you been involved with Robotics?

The origin was a meeting in Hilo, just sort of a chance meeting when what’s now known as the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center was being conceived of. Because it was Senator Inouye’s money that was being sent through NASA, NASA sent a representative to the first meeting. I was walking around with my plate looking for some place to sit and there was a man sitting by himself. I sat down with him.

Turned out that he was an engineer from NASA who headed the National Robotics Alliance, and he started to tell me about the programs he was helping to run in the San Jose, San Francisco area. He gave me chicken skin because he was talking about taking gang kids off the street and turning them into kids that would go to UC Berkeley and other colleges.

At the time, we didn’t have any formal scholastic Robotics in Hawai‘i. He had come to Hawai‘i with a scholarship to fund one team to participate in a program called FIRST Robotics, and the value was about $4,000. He had offered the scholarship to the DOE, who would be assigning it to a school. Turns out that school became Waialua High School. They have one of the premier Robotics programs in the world right now – not just in Hawai‘i or the nation, but in the world.

Tell me more about what’s happening there at Waialua on O’ahu.

It’s Waialua High and Intermediate, a grade 8-12 school. They’re just an amazing operation in a small sugar plantation town, a lot of immigrant kids, and yet because of the vision of a teacher out there, over the past 20 years it’s grown into a program where they’re in the so-called Robotics Hall of Fame. They travel extensively to the Mainland. They went to China and Korea this year and they’re going to Japan next year.

Is Robotics as big in the rest of Hawai‘i?

In Hawai‘i, our history is that we were able to grow things very rapidly, to a very high level. But because our population is limited, then eventually we get outpaced.

For example, there’s a program I brought to Hawai‘i called Botball. It’s probably one of the hardest programs because the kids have to program the robot, build the robot and then program it to operate autonomously during the entire match. There’s no human control, so it’s high-level programming that they have to learn. It’s a pretty expensive program.

We grew it in Hawai‘i to the largest in the world. At one time there were 42 teams. In the world there were like 300, and we had 42 of them. We were bigger than New York or California. Twice we hosted the world championship in Hawai‘i because we had so many teams.

Botball has kind of tapered down now to maybe only 10 teams, though, because of the cost. I think even more than the cost is the difficulty of doing it. You need to find a mentor that can teach kids how to program at very high levels.

How many kids are involved with Robotics on the Big Island?

I’m just guessing, but I would say about 700 to 800 kids in elementary, middle  and high school, both boys and girls. We have some all-girl teams. There’s a Girl Scout team in Kea‘au that has three teams right now. It’s Troop 254.

Is there a certain type of child who is especially interested in Robotics, or does very well in Robotics?

I think it takes different types of people to have a successful team. You have some that like to do the mechanical part of building, and you have some that focus on the programming side. You need the cheerleader type. There are some kids on the team, they just want to belong to an organization but they’re not athletes, and so they join the team and they become the rah-rah people. They organize different aspects of it, like the documentation. There’s room for everybody on a team, depending on how the team is organized.

What are the other Robotics programs here in Hawai‘i?

There are nine programs right now. We have a program called FIRST LEGO League, a very big program. That’s an elementary and middle school program and it’s well-known at many schools. I think they must have about 140 or 150 teams in Hawai‘i.

There’s also FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST. FIRST Tech Challenge is for middle and high school kids

FIRST is a large robot that the kids build from scratch, about 125 pounds, and they play in a sporting-like environment. The name FIRST stands for “For Inspiration of Science and Technology” and it’s a well-known program nationally. We have about 27 teams in Hawai‘i that play in that program. It’s very expensive. The entry fee alone is about $6000. The initial outlay is about $10,000 per team. But the kids learn a lot.

Where does that money come from?

They fundraise. Waialua is a good example. The reason I send a lot of people out there to visit is that yeah, they make good robots, but their business plan is just amazing. They raise about $150,000, $160,000 a year to support their program. It’s just a well-orchestrated business plan – how to solicit sponsors, and more importantly, how to retain a sponsor.

So they are learning incredible business skills, too.

Yes. Out of maybe 35 kids, probably only 10 build robots. The others are doing media things. They maintain the website, they document everything. They’re trained in how to solicit sponsors, to thank sponsors for their sponsorship level. It not only sustains itself but increases oftentimes. They write grants. It’s just an amazing operation they have out there.

Are any Big Island schools operating at that level?

They can’t match that here. It’s because of the way the lead teacher at Waialua organized it. He sees the bigger picture.

Most of our schools in Hawai‘i struggle financially and not only that, they also have limited space. If they are able to get a room, they’re lucky. Most of them are working out of part of a classroom. Waialua has six rooms dedicated just for Robotics. It’s because, again, the vision is much broader.

It sounds like we need more of that vision here on the Big Island.

Absolutely, yeah. It’s difficult because teachers are so busy in their day-to-day work that to come up with what Waialua is doing is very difficult. You have to be kind of a skilled grant writer, but it’s possible.

To me, that’s the high bar. You always want to look at that, even if you can’t replicate it identically. There are parts of it I think we can all learn from.

What are the other Robotics programs?

There are two versions of underwater Robotics in Hawai‘i. They run them in swimming pools. Good program, not very big. Primarily, I think, because from the audience side, it’s difficult to get people excited because it’s hard to imagine what’s going on underwater.

I focus more on a program called VEX Robotics because, to me, it’s much more sustainable and expandable. That’s the one we just had the tournament for in Honolulu.

We have over 300 VEX Robotics teams now in Hawai‘i. We’re in about 35 percent of the schools. On the Big Island alone we have 53 teams, so we have one-fourth of the total participants in the state right now. It’s grown enormously on this island.

What are the challenges with Robotics?

Part of the big challenge in Robotics for several years has been access. There are so many kids that are interested but because of various reasons, the opportunity to participate is very limited. A school can say, We have a Robotics program. When you ask, Well, how many kids? They say, Well, we have a FIRST LEGO League team – which is limited to 10 kids.

That means it could be 10 kids out of 500, and usually the school will go through a selection process. My concern always is the average student often is left out because they take the gifted and talented to represent the school.

With IQ (one of the VEX programs) what’s good is there’s no limit on the number of students or the number of teams you can have per school. Some schools have six teams and they may have 20 or 30 kids registered. I was at Konawaena Elementary two weeks ago to visit, and I was really stunned because there were like 55 kids there with six teachers. It’s very unusual for that many teachers to be involved. It’s amazing.

The demand is there and access is what we’re trying to deal with.

Part 2: ‘Kids Don’t Want To Go Home!’


Why Are Robots Assembling on Hawaii Island?

For the first time, the State Championship event for Hawai‘i high school VEX robotics will be held on the Big Island.

The championship event in January 2017, which, appropriately for the astronomy-oriented Big Island, is called “Starstruck,” will host 30 to 36 high school VEX robotics teams from throughout the state. Winning teams from the State Championship event will qualify for the World VEX Championship games, to be held in April 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Last year, 31 Hawai‘i robotics teams participated at the World Championship, including eight middle and high school VEX teams. Kohala High School won the Judges Award. Twenty three VEX IQ elementary and middle school teams participated last year, including Kea‘au Elementary School.

Teams are already designing and programming robots to meet the 2017 games challenges. Schools interested in joining VEX VRC or IQ should email Art Kimura, Education Specialist at UH Manoa’s Hawai’i Space Grant Consortium, as soon as possible.

Volunteers are needed for the January 6th championship event. Organizations and individuals are needed for judging, refereeing, scorekeeping, announcing and queuing. To volunteer, contact Art Kimura with your organization affiliation, if any, and t-shirt size. Volunteers receive lunch, drinks and a t-shirt.

To qualify for the State Championships, teams must first qualify in tournaments to be held on Onizuka Science Day (January 28, 2017; volunteers and sponsors are still needed for that day as well). VEX VRC middle and high school qualifying robotics tournaments will be held at Waiakea Intermediate and Kohala High. VEX IQ Crossover elementary and middle school qualifying tournaments will be held at Waiakea Elementary, Kealakehe High School and UH Hilo.

VEX VRC and IQ robotics are the fastest growing robotics programs in the world with more than 16,000 teams. Last year Hawai‘i had 238 teams, and it’s projected to have least 300 in the near future, representing more than 30 percent of the state’s schools. This is due to an infusion of state labor work force development funds, says Kimura, who thanks Representative Mark Nakashima.

“Robotics would not be possible in Hawai‘i without the generous support of the community and the hundreds of volunteers, including team mentors,” says Kimura.

“On the Big Island, the early and continuous support of the Thirty Meter Telescope and Sandra Dawson has increased schools’ and communities’ access to scholastic robotics. Statewide, the Hawaiian Electric Companies and the aio Foundation have generously provided support where we have experienced a 300 percent growth in VEX IQ robotics in just two years. We are one of only ten states to show a +50 team increase in one year, and on a per capita basis, we lead the nation in participation.”

This October, an international robotics competition called the Pan Pacific Championship will be held on O‘ahu. It will include more than 20 teams from China, Taiwan, Korea, New Zealand and Canada as well as Hawai‘i.

“We thank the generous support of the Thirty Meter Telescope, the Hawaiian Electric Companies, the County of Hawai‘i (Research and Development), and Kea‘au High School, to make it possible for the Big Island to host the Starstruck State Championship tournament,” says Kimura.

Kimura says if the Mauna Kea Outreach Committee, UH Hilo, or any other Big Island organizations would like to help support the State Championship tournament, they can email him at Sponsors’ logos will be on the volunteer t-shirts and the championship banners awarded to winning teams. Sponsors are also provided with a sponsor table at the tournament.


TMT Providing Loads of Classroom & Scholarship Money

I wrote about the THINK Fund back when it was getting started. It’s a grant and scholarship program provided by the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory to prepare Hawai‘i Island students to master science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and to become the workforce for higher-paying science and technology jobs in Hawai‘i’s 21st-century economy.

TMT contributes $1 million per year to the scholarship THINK Fund, which is now in its second year. It specifically benefits students only on Hawai‘i Island.

To date, more than 8,000 students and 150 teachers on Hawai‘i Island have been directly involved in a project supported by the THINK Fund  at HCF – and it’s only been 15 months.

THINK stands for “The Hawai‘i Island New Knowledge” Fund, and funds are distributed by the Hawai‘i Community Foundation (HCF) and the Pauahi Foundation.

Of TMT’s $1 million annual contribution, $750,000 goes into the THINK Fund at HCF. Part of those funds go towards building a THINK fund endowment at HCF, so STEM learning on this island is supported long into the future.

The THINK Fund at HCF provides two types of grants:

1. Classroom Project Grants,for teachers in the public and charter schools, support STEM learning projects for grades 3-12. Teachers can post about a project for consideration on anytime, and if they meet the criteria it is usually funded within a week or two.

More than $85,000 has gone to STEM classroom project grants since November 2014. Just since the beginning of this 2015-16 school year, 30 teachers have received funding for student learning materials such as National Geographic Space Building and Ocean Building kits, microscopes, laptops, and compasses.

Some other specific STEM classroom projects that have been funded by THINK:

  • Applied Science supplies and kits to the Volcano School of Arts and Science public charter school, grades 3-5
  • What is STEAM & Why My Students Need Your Help Please, to the Laupāhoehoe Community Public Charter School, grades 3-5
  • Future Health Professional—Providing Hope for the Rural Community, to Ka‘ū High & Pahala Elementary School, grades 9-12
  • Narrow the Achievement Gap in Mathematics, to Konawaena Middle School, grades 6-8

2. STEM Learning Grants, for non-profit organizations and schools, are awarded through an annual application process. The substantial amount of money awarded each year keeps going up.

In 2014, the THINK Fund at HCF gave $200,000 to launch the STEM Learning Grants. So many compelling community requests were received for grants, though, that HCF recruited other organizations to contribute to the funding too, and it received another $300,000.

As a result, in March 2015, $500,000 in STEM Learning Grants were awarded to 23 Hawai‘i Island organizations.

This year, more organizations are contributing to the STEM Learning Grants, the most recent being the Maunakea Observatories. HCF says this year’s goal is to distribute at least $700,000 in grants.

The types of programs funded through the STEM Learning Grants include after-school and intersession programs for students, project-based teams, robotics and student internships, equipment upgrades, STEM curriculum development in local schools, teacher development, mentor training, and STEM professional learning networks.

Twenty-nine applications for this year’s STEM Learning Grants are being reviewed now, and funding will be awarded in late March.

The THINK Fund at HCF also provides college scholarships. In 2015, 24 Hawai‘i Island students received a total of $95,500 in awards ranging from $3-7,500. The students are pursuing 17 different STEM degrees, from aerospace engineering to zoology.

This year’s college scholarships will be announced in May. One hundred thousand dollars worth of awards will be provided to students pursuing undergraduate or graduate level degrees, certificates, or other professional development coursework to become a STEM educator on Hawai‘i Island; or degrees or certificates in STEM-related fields.

Another bonus is that when a student applies to the THINK Fund at HCF scholarships, he or she is also considered for other HCF scholarships (HCF offers more than 200 in total).


Natural Gas, Hydrogen, & What Kids Learn in Fourth Grade

Richard Ha writes:

The online site has an interesting write-up about natural gas and essentially points out that its high decline rate will make the recent spike in natural gas relatively short-lived.

U.S. LNG exports: What Would Randy Udall Say?

There has been considerable talk in the US of late about not only future energy exports but even about using an “energy weapon” against Russia.  While that might be nice, it’s wishful thinking.

An energy commentator who thought in depth about the US’s energy policy back-story and the myth of oil independence was Randy Udall, who passed away suddenly in late June last year.  

On March 21, 2013, during one of his last presentations, Randy delivered some remarks, accompanying a set of power-point slides, which provide the type of cautionary background that Washington insiders—including his brother Senator Mark Udall and cousin Senator Tom Udall—should heed.

His complete remarks, now posted on YouTube, were recently transcribed by Steve Andrews; key points are listed below.  The first remark about natural gas exports is actually a response to a question from the audience; the remainder is from his loosely scripted remarks. 

  • This meme that we’ve got a 100-year supply of natural gas started at the Colorado School of Mines.  They have a volunteer group there called the Potential Gas Committee, but the Potential Gas Committee is not looking at proven reserves; they’re looking at how much carbon might there be in 5000 feet of the Mancos shale.
  • I look around and I start running the numbers.  You know how much we’ve produced in this part of the world, in Weld County and Larimer County and the DJ Basin and the Wattenberg field we’ve been drilling for 80 years?  Now, this field is primarily an oil field.  But in that 80-year period of time we’ve produced enough natural gas to run the US for four months.
  • In the Powder River Basin, with those 25,000 natural gas wells, we’ve produced enough natural gas to run the US for four or five months.  When you look into it, there are only about six natural gas plays that are of any size; they’re dominated by three or four of the big ones—the Marcellus in Pennsylvania…maybe it will end up supplying five years’ of US gas demand over the next 60 or 70 years….

Read the rest

This next video—of Randy Udall speaking at the Colorado Renewable Energy Society meeting in 2013—shows what it looks like down there where we are fracking for oil and gas; it shows how the world looked millions of years ago when the oil and gas was forming. Ingenious human beings. This is a very good video if you are interested in this topic.

It’s also very interesting to see how ingenious the oil and gas industry folks are as they developed the technology that resulted in fracking. It’s incredible. But, as Nate Hagens points out, after shale oil and gas, it’s all gone. There’s no more. (I wrote about the global resource depletion authority Nate Hagens, his visit to our farm earlier this year, and his reactions to what we’re doing there.)

But, for us here in Hawai‘i, we can do what Iceland did. With cheap electricity, they make hydrogen on site and they have a hydrogen refueling station. I went over there and looked at it myself. The cars are rolling out now. They are eighty percent green and they will be ninety percent fossil free. We can do the same here with our curtailed and otherwise unused electricity.

We could also create a mini-ammonia processing plant. We really have a lot of interesting and real possibilities.

Leslie Lang, who helps me with this blog, and I were talking about this, and the importance of respecting the past while planning for the future, and she told me about a field trip her daughter took in fourth grade at Kamehameha Schools.

The theme was “Preservation vs. Progress,” and she went along to chaperone. She shared with me something she wrote about it at the time and I asked her if I could include some of her words here, because it really makes the point well that we must honor the past but lead the way into the future. I’m glad they are teaching that to our kids.

Unlike in the old days, when we followed the teachings of the missionaries,today and tomorrow our kids need to be the ones leading the direction based on a healthy respect for our history.

(Note too that we cannot just blindly follow what the folks in the cold country are doing, either. This is not cold country. Some things apply and some things don’t.)

From Leslie, on the fourth grade “Preservation vs. Progress” field trip she accompanied:

The teachers did a great job of talking about the importance of preserving our past, our wahi pana (sacred places), as well as how progress brings what is sometimes necessary change, and how we have to balance those things. We saw this first at Pu‘ukohola Heiau in Kawaihae.

Kamehameha was told that if he built a heiau at that site, he would be able to unite the very divided islands. The ranger explained that if you traveled from Kea‘au (where the school is) to Kawaihae (where the heiau is) in the old days, you’d travel through several different chiefdoms, many of which would be at war with each other. It would be dangerous and difficult. Those wars lasted for 500 years.

He talked about how the heiau was built, and had the kids try to lift a relatively small rock compared to some of the rocks in the heiau. Some of these kids could, and many couldn’t. 

The heiau was so important to Kamehameha, who believed he would receive the gods’ mana upon building it, that this happened: His younger brother was to be its kahu (priest), and he told the brother not to touch any of the rocks. But the brother did, he pitched in to help, and Kamehameha saw. He was worried about that disturbing the mana that he took the rocks his brother touched out in a wa‘a, a canoe, and went far out into the ocean and dumped them.

The rocks that make up Pu‘ukohola all came from Pololu Valley, about 25 miles away. They were passed hand to hand along a very long human chain of men. We know this because occasionally a rock was dropped, and then it was not used in the heiau so it was left where it lay. There is still a rough path of large pohaku, rocks, lining the route from Pololu to Pu‘ukohola. 

Just off Pu‘ukohola there used to an island called Puaka‘ilima, we learned. It was significant because the ‘ilima flower grew all over that island, and that’s a flower that is cherished for leimaking (and you need hundreds of blossoms to make one lei).

That treasured island was destroyed, blown up, when the state decided it needed to dredge the harbor so big ships could come in with food and supplies. 

Here was the point of that day’s lesson. Progress = change. We have all these people here and are not producing enough food on our own anymore, so we need ships to bring in enough food for us all to eat. That’s why they had to destroy the island. In this case, progress and preservation were at odds. 

Was this the only way to solve that problem? asked the kumu (teacher). I don’t know, she said. Was it the best decision? I don’t know, she said. I don’t know all the details.

“But some day it is going to be you children making these decisions. You are going to have to weigh preservation vs. change.” You have to know about the past and the present to make good decisions about the future, she told them.

Then we went to Kona, to the King Kamehameha Hotel. This is a touristy spot—but just at the back of the hotel is a very important historical place called Kamakahonu. Ahu‘ena Heiau is there, and that’s where Kamehameha died. It was both the end of the story we had been hearing of his life, and another demonstration of preservation vs. progress.

Before we got there, the kumu looked hard at the kids and talked to them for quite a long time about how we are not going there for the hotel, or to look at all the guests, or to talk about the pool. We were not going there to play. 

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” she said. “I like this hotel. It’s where I stay when I come to Kona. But that’s not what we are here for today.” She told them they were there to respect and learn about the heiau. 

Again she talked to them about focusing, and she told them this was going to be the hardest place of all to focus because of all the stuff, the playing, going on all around us. But she told them they needed to do so, to focus, to chant with their attention in the right place.

When they’d been at the Pololu overlook, they’d had this same reminder. When they were done there with their chants and their song about the place, tourists all around us broke into applause. Of course the tourists didn’t know, but it felt inappropriate because although, yes, these kids sound good, they were not entertaining. They were facing the valley and the ocean, not the people, and were paying their respects. 

And when that applause broke out, not one kid looked around, like they would have if it had been a concert for fun. They kept their focus and their attention. It was very interesting to see and not a little impressive.

So back to the hotel, where the kids walked through the somewhat crowded lobby single file and in silence. It was pretty impressive, because believe me these kids can also be normal fourth graders: loud and boisterous. But apparently they also know when not to be. It was really something—people stopped and watched.

We were expected, and hotel Security knew we were going to go into the heiau area beyond the normal kapu (keep out) signs. The kids chanted, and we heard more about the significance of that heiau, and again, Kumu talked about preservation (the heiau) vs. progress/change (the hotel). She presented it so well. She stressed again that someday they are going to be the ones who have to weigh the one against the other. That they have to know both the past and the present to determine the future.

The kumu kept stressing that they were giving these stories about the past to the kids and it was their kuleana, their responsibility, to remember them and pass them on. You cannot make good decisions about preservation vs. progress if you don’t know the importance of what is there to preserve, they said.

It was such an impressive and important field trip. I am not a fourth grader, and I got a hundred times more out of it than I expected. So well thought out and presented. Our kids are very fortunate to be learning such important lessons.


The Lamakū Project

Richard Ha writes:

I want to tell you what’s new. The Big Island Community Coalition (BICC), in partnership with ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, is kicking off the Lamakū Adopt-a-Visit project.

Download Adopt a Visit Program_2013_brochure

Lamakū means “torch of light.” This project will sponsor Puna and Ka‘ū students to go on a field trip to ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo. 

Here’s how it works: You make a 100 percent tax-deductible donation to ‘Imiloa, specifying that it’s in support of the BICC “Adopt-a-Visit” project. (You can specify that it’s for a certain Puna or Ka‘ū school if you’d like, but that’s optional.)

Each $5 donation sponsors one student. Public, private, charter and homeschooled students are eligible.

Donations will be applied to the ‘Imiloa admission fee.  As long as funds are available, ‘Imiloa will cover the cost of bus transportation to the Center. ‘Imiloa will coordinate the school visits, and will ensure that the donor receives feedback about the trip to ‘Imiloa they helped sponsor.

Eighty-nine percent of students in the Pahoa school complex participate in the free/reduced lunch program. This is the highest percentage in the state.

This is an opportunity to make a real difference on the ground. Thanks for your help.

How to donate


How To Dramatically Increase Big Island School Budgets

Richard Ha writes:

Because the Big Island pays 25 percent more for its electricity than O‘ahu does, it follows that Big Island schools have 25 percent less of their budgets available to pay teachers than O‘ahu’s schools. Did you ever think about it this way?

Some Big Island school complexes (an area’s elementary, middle and high school) are paying around $1 million/year just for electricity. As compared with O‘ahu, that’s around $250,000/year that isn’t going toward teachers and other education services. At $70K per teacher, that could be three full time-teachers, for instance.

On top of the Big Island having paid 25 percent more for its electricity than O‘ahu for as long as anyone can remember, our Puna district has one of the lowest median family incomes in the state.

And what’s the best predictor of family income? Level of education. Therefore, one of many benefits of cheaper electricity is that a lot more of our schools’ money would go toward educating our children. Lowering the cost of electricity would allow Puna schools more resources to focus on teachers and learning, and it follows that this could lead to increased median family incomes.

Geothermal done in a responsible manner can lower the cost of electricity. But we all must work together. It’s great that HELCO is moving forward with low-cost alternatives, such as calling for requests for proposals for expanding geothermal production.

There are a thousand reasons why NO CAN. We only need to find the one reason why CAN!


What Is That Circle Around Us?

Richard Ha writes:

A bunch of things are happening right now. They look very different, but see if you notice what they all have in common.

We are just seeing the tomatoes start to produce more in spite of the dark, wet weather. It’s the third week of February; and last year, too, our tomatoes’ rate of production started climbing in the third week of February. That gives me a good feeling, because I’d been looking around and anticipating this.

All around I see growth. Avocado trees everywhere are choke with flowers right now. The ‘ulu are starting to develop on the tree; the ones I’m watching are about baseball size right now. Everything’s growing and producing around us.

We spent Saturday in Kona at a get-together for Armstrong Produce and its farmers. We stayed there for several hours, talking story with everybody.

I was sitting next to Timothy Choo, a chef from Sodexho, which does food service for UH Hilo. Sodexho is a huge supporter of local products, they go out of their way to buy locally, and we had a big conversation about it. Sodexho is supplied by Suisan, also a big supporter of local products.

I was also talking to Troy Keolanui, manager of OK Farms. Ed Olson owns that farm, 200 acres of many kinds of fruit and other trees, and we help distribute their produce under our Hilo Coast brand.

They are located behind Rainbow Falls, and they have a tent, with chairs in it, where they can sit and look at the falls. They purposely set it up behind some bushes so it doesn’t disrupt the more common view of Rainbow Falls, the one that tourists look at every day.

Then we drove back to this side of the island and went straight
to Puna. Chef Alan Wong was there, and he was throwing a small dinner for the farmers he buys from here.

Alan Wong and I started talking about the Adopt-A-Class project. I
said, “Why don’t we do a broader Adopt-A-Class project this time, in Puna. We’ll take the whole district and go to each of the schools there, including the charter schools. Everywhere there are elementary school kids.”

He’s into it. When we did this in the past, Alan Wong gave a class at Keaukaha Elementary School where he showed the kids how
to use tomatoes, and passed tomatoes around and had some of those kids eating, and loving, tomatoes.

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 3.13.20 PM

Then yesterday, the folks from Zippy’s came by the farm. They’re going to open up a restaurant at Prince Kuhio Plaza soon and we’ll be supplying some of their products. Zippy’s has a strong “support local” program. When you go into any Zippy’s restaurant, you always see signs about which farms they get some of their products from. Zippy’s also uses local beef. It’s a corporate decision to support local growers.

Do you see the common link among all these things? Everybody’s coming at it from a different point-of-view, but the common
denominator is that we are so lucky to live here in Hawai‘i!

It’s all about local food and making ourselves food-secure. Our tomatoes are thriving and plentiful; where else in the country can you grow tomatoes throughout the winter? Other food is growing all around us.

Armstrong Produce distributes the products of many local farmers and producers. So does Suisan. Sodexo buy that local food.

And Alan Wong, too, is very interested in supporting local farmers and teaching local school kids. He’s very aware of the movement to be self-sustaining and is always reaching out to teach kids about where they come from, how their parents used to live and how we can live now. He’s all about helping people be grounded, and he comes at it with the training of a very high-level chef.

People are really helping each other out. Everybody has to make money, but they’re looking after the next person in the chain. If you’re the farmer, you’re hoping that your wholesaler is caring about you and not just the retailers. Everybody is look after everybody else.

It’s the only way I can figure out that we can help our own workers. Because, of everyone, who’s going to protect the workers? I’ve got to do everything I can to protect them.

There’s a big circle of sustainability around us, and it’s one that’s getting bigger and bigger. It’s really incredible, though it’s easy to get caught up in our busy lives and forget to notice.


Pahoa Elementary: Tomatoes All Around

Richard told me they took tomatoes down to Pahoa today, and gave some to every kid in the elementary school there.

There was an unexpected spike in production, he said, and he wanted to give them to the kids and their families.


“We’ve done that over the years,” he said. “We just kind of made our way down the coast to the elementary schools. Kalani‘ana‘ole, Ha‘aheo, Hilo Union, Kapi‘olani, Waiakea Elementary, Kea‘au Elementary, ending up in Hawaiian Beaches at Keonepoko. So the next one was Pahoa Elementary.”

The farm first started handing out tomatoes and bananas at Keaukaha Elementary, back when the Thirty Meter Telescope adopt-a-class project was new and there were a lot of extras one season.

Over the years, he said, he’s been floored by the response. “There are so many people, I have no idea who they are, who come up and tell me they were so happy to receive the tomatoes.”

“We decided elementary kids because it’s a prize they can take home to their parents,” he said. “I feel pretty good being able to do it.”