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Editorial | Island Voices

At a small school, everyone takes part in sustainability

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The Academy of the Pacific, focusing intently on some 90 students in the lovely setting of a former estate in Alewa Heights, was chosen by the Hawaii Community Foundation, in partnership with the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools, as one of 20 "Schools of the Future" (SOTF). This excellent program, rewarding schools of particular vision, involves a five-year, $5 million commitment to fund projects that will harness the collective wisdom of the community of schools, sharing their "problems of practice" concerning school transformation.

The Academy of the Pacific, like most small schools, has been particularly challenged by the downturn in the economy. In an environment of serious budgetary challenges, we were challenged to devise worthy projects that might be deserving of the SOTF grant using less manpower and fewer resources. Our answer was to redirect our thinking from a "project-based" paradigm to one that looked at the entire school as a living laboratory, focusing on a theme of sustainability. Using the axiom "Think Globally, Act Locally" as our guide, we determined to challenge our students to study various global conditions, identify the correlating local issues and then to create a local, manageable solution right on campus.

Some examples:

» Energy audits: Rather than bringing in outside experts to perform a costly energy audit, we will have our own students learn how to do energy audits, make recommendations and then be part of the implementation of the solution. This becomes an interdisciplinary topic, requiring students to research the world’s current use of energy, understand the supply and demand factors affecting natural energy resources, analyze the science behind the various electrical usages of the campus and utilize math equations to understand various rate structures. This topic is rich with possibilities for research, collaboration and interdisciplinary actions. Once the research and studies are done, students will actually work toward testing their theories and knowledge to lower campus energy bills.

» Green waste, composting, water catchment and gardens: AOP’s four-acre campus is lush with tropical flora and fruit trees. Currently, we pay for removal of waste vegetation. Using our new sustainability model, we intend to utilize our green waste for composting to support a garden that provides food products for our cafeteria. In addition, we will introduce a water catchment system to water the garden and the property.

We have taken our small size and transformed it to an asset that enables us to quickly engage with a vision, adopt a plan and implement it, using the campus as our "living laboratory." It is our hope that other schools — public and private — may be inspired and reach out to our faculty and students to share what we learn in this process.

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