HPA students design and plant for the future

  • First grade students chant Kulanihakoi and then dance Kani Mau Ke Ola o Kalaau to honor the land they are preparing to cultivate, as Village Campus Garden Coordinator Jessica Sobocinski watches. (COURTESY PHOTO/LIZ WATSON, HPA)

  • Village Campus Garden Coordinator Jessica Sobocinski assists fifth grader Zane Vannatta (left) and kindergartner Cole Hoover plant native species landscape plants on campus. (COURTESY PHOTO/LIZ WATSON, HPA)

WAIMEA — Hawaii Preparatory Academy students, teachers and volunteers gathered in front of Hale Inana on the Village Campus Wednesday to plant a future.

Lower school students surrounded prepared beds throughout the grounds dotted with potted aalii, akia, uki uki and ohia plants, awaiting their home in the rich Waimea soil.


Micah Barker and Molly Scheufler, community volunteers from Bioscape Hawaii, were on hand for the installation, and students huddled up for a planting demonstration given by Barker. Then, like a hive of bees, students dispersed to their assigned bed to begin planting.

The design and planting project was the culmination of an eighth grade capstone class, “Our Island Earth,” developed by garden teacher Jessica Sobocinski.

“I thought that having these students design the landscape would help introduce them to the ways in which plants can sequester carbon and increase biodiversity, but also give them a taste of the project design process,” she said.

As a kickoff, earlier this spring Barker and Scheufler provided students with basic information needed to create their landscape design, while Sobocinski offered foundational experiences that took students on explorations of various sections of the ahupuaa.

“We went on different field trips to the ocean, forest and a farm, and I did a stream field trip that connected them. It’s the concept of the ahupuaa and how all those places related to one another, and how important it is to take care of your forest because that has an effect on the reef if you don’t,” Sobocinski said.

The essential question, “How can we make a net positive impact on the environment?” required students to analyze environmental initiatives to determine if they made a net positive impact or just reduced a negative impact. It raised their awareness of the kinds of impact they can have on the environment.

“As eighth-graders you can’t make a lot of consumer choices, but you can plant things, recycle and build a rainwater catchment system,” Sobocinski said.

Students also made connections between how their particular interests can have a positive environmental impact.

“One of the girls is really into design and engineering and putting things together, so she made a gray water system coming off of our outdoor sink that waters the bamboo. She hadn’t realized that she could use her engineering interest to design things that are better for the environment,” Sobocinski said.

All this groundwork provided a foundation for students to begin the design process.

“Micah and Molly came in and gave a landscape 101 class. How do you go from having this idea of I want to plant all these plants to having an idea of how this space is used? How big are these plants going to be? How do you measure and map out and plot? are questions they asked them,” Sobocinski explained.

Students also developed a plant “palate” based on what plants are native to the area and what was going to enhance the biodiversity.

“We also wanted to make sure we had trees so we were sequestering carbon,” Sobocinski said.

Ten students were then assigned a quadrant and got to work on a landscape design. When finished, they presented their designs to Scheufler at a design blitz day for suggestions and modifications. Once revised, the designs were presented to HPA administration, who approved them for installation.


On installation day, Kumu Kuwalu Anakalea led the opening protocol.

“We need to honor these plants and each other. Maybe one day the plants you plant will be a tool like an oo to dig with or will provide shade or food,” she said. “As these plants grow, are you also growing? Yes. You will be able to come back in 20 years to honor the tree you planted.”

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