Classroom Connections: Waiʻalae Public Charter School

The Canoe to Classroom (C2C) program engages teachers from across Oʻahu and beyond through workshops and lesson plan jams, creating opportunities for teachers to collaborate, create, and pilot activities, lessons and units based on the themes and values of Polynesian voyaging and wayfinding, Hawaiian culture, and efforts to mālama honua. In late March, educators met at Waiʻalae Elementary Public Charter School (Waiʻalae PCS), hosted by Raechelle Villanueva, a grade 3 teacher, who also attended the school as a student.IMG_0289

Waiʻalae PCS opened in 1928 as Waiʻalae School and enjoyed a reputation of excellence, consistently demonstrating high achievement and progress in student learning. In 1990, the Waiʻalae School community realized that in order to really prepare students for the future, learning needed to be about more than content and skills. Habits of mind, a sense of place, and being part of a community are equally important in the development of respectful, responsible, and productive young people.

In 1995, after the Hawaiʻi State legislature passed the state’s charter school law Waiʻalae School became Hawaiʻi’s first Student-Centered School, and eventually evolved into a New Century Public Charter School. Today, the school continues to be a student-centered democratic learning environment that honors the whole child and engages all community members. Students and teachers work together to create interactive, theme-based units of study with multidimensional assessments based on performance criteria. The Waiʻalae PCS educational program enables students to develop the habits of mind and attitudes that will allow them to be well-rounded, socially responsible, and productive citizens who are able to think critically, collaborate effectively, solve problems, and make decisions.

Always striving to find better ways to support the learning of children, the Waiʻalae PCS community is committed to self reflection, innovation and creativity. As a result, the educational program and outcomes that characterize the school change and evolve over time. The School is also committed to “establishing and maintaining meaningful and productive partnerships” with community organizations in order to provide students with authentic and real-world learning experiences.

Raechelle Villanueva was inspired by these two commitments, along with her own passion for Wayfinding, to use Mālama Honua as a metaphor for her classroom and thematic units this year. Raechelle shared the Identity of a Community Unit Plan she developed at the Summer Institute for Thematic Instruction, a program run by the Hanahauoli School Professional Development Center. She designed the Identity Unit to help students understand that they are part of a larger collective and that in order to make really change, individuals must identify their kuleana and kūlana in the larger community and the world. The unit also provides students with opportunities to develop both academic and 21st century skills. As a culminating project for the Identity Unit, the teachers and students of Waiʻalae PCS have partnered with a local artist from 808 Urban to construct a mural that they hope will inspire community members to Mālama Honua.

IMG_0290In addition to sharing Waiʻalae PCS’s history and Raechelle’s innovative curriculum, the C2C Workshop hosted at Waiʻalae PCS also included a presentation on how teachers and students can use digital storytelling platforms to share their own stories with others. These digital tools, like Thinglink, Esri Story Maps, Google MyMaps and Google Tourbuilder, can be used in any content area and in almost every grade level.

Do you have great ideas on how to connect your classroom to the canoe and mālama honua through activities, lessons and units? Come on down and jam on lesson plan ideas with us! There is a C2C Workshop on Thursday, April 13th at Helemano Elementary in Wahiawā, on the island of Oʻahu. Contact for more information on upcoming C2C workshops and other educator opportunities!

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