Keaau students use science, technology to launch plant-ID project

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald An ohia tree gets an Arboretum Plant Tag Wednesday after the Service Learning Project Installation Ceremony at Keaau High School.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Students write down information about various plants using Arboretum Plant Tags Wednesday after the Service Learning Project Installation Ceremony at Keaau High School.
  • Sophomores Carolyne Brown, 14, left, and Mikyla Mateo, 15, write down information about the kalo plant using an arboretum plant tag Wednesday after the Service Learning Project installation ceremony at Keaau High School. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

KEAAU — With the help of a smartphone, and quick scan of a QR code, visitors to Keaau High School can learn about the trees and plants around campus.

A ceremony Wednesday marked the installation of the service learning project in which the school’s STEM Club and other students and collaborators created arboretum tags for the campus flora.

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The tags can be scanned with a smartphone, which then brings up additional information about each plant.

“We are here to celebrate the installment of the research and hard work (that has) taken place in the past year,” junior Leilani Stone, 16, told a group of students, teachers and community members gathered Wednesday at the school. “Each plant tag planted into the earth creates a connection to the environment, not just physically, but electronically. With the use of our QR codes, our community can draw a better connection with nature, learning about how plants are classified and the importance of safeguarding them, all while continuing to acknowledge and apply conservation and stability practices.”

Stone, a member of the STEM Club and Girls Who Code, told the crowd that working on the project has not only increased her knowledge, but helped her grow as a student and individual.

“I realize change won’t happen without venturing out of my comfort zone and discovering the world around me,” she continued. “It may seem unnerving and stressful at first, but what we do today leaves impactful changes for future classes.”

Science teacher and STEM adviser May Richard said there will be related activities in the future, and the database will be updated regularly.

“Lastly, we will install all the remaining plant tags … so we can use the school campus as a venue for (an) ecological and botanical learning experience,” she told the crowd. “We hope that this project will ignite more sustainable and conservation practices in our community.”

According to information provided at the installation ceremony, the idea for the project came during taxonomy and geographic information systems lessons in a biology class last year, and the project was approved by Principal Dean Cevallos in March.

Inventory, identification and mapping of the various species around campus began in the second semester of the 2017-18 academic year.

Richard in August submitted a grant request through DonorsChoose, a nonprofit that allows donors to give directly to public school classroom projects, and the project was fully funded that month.

“This is wonderful to perpetuate the education and the need for us to care for the aina and also to let the students know what’s in front of them and what will eventually cover their heads when it gets bigger,” Cevallos said. “So this is awesome.”

Once the tags were placed Wednesday, a number of students and guests made their way around, testing the new technology.

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The high school’s plant database is linked to and can be found on the high school website, keaauhs.com.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.