Project Pono

Project Pono is an environmental stewardship and service learning course for high school students at ULS designed to develop student leadership, networking, and organization skills and cultivate understanding of complex ideas such as environmental stewardship and food democracy. In Project Pono, students begin by identifying their own environmental and cultural interests, then create or participate in educational outreach and service events grounded in island or Hawaiian values that support environmental and cultural sustainability. Project Pono students are guided to dig deep into the nature of their projects to try to find local and global value: environmental justice, not just environmental stewardship; food sovereignty and food democracy, not just food security; or cultural preservation, restoration, and cultivation, not just “work days” or “community service.” Student organizers are tasked with identifying educational and environmental components for their projects, identifying and inviting community partners, and finding funds. Students applied for and received grants from Youth Service Hawai‘i, ULS Alumni Association, and ULS Booster Club this year.

In addition to contributing to or leading projects in their communities, the Project Pono class also turned their attention to taking care of their home. Students carried out a variety of campus beautification projects and improvements centered on the cultivation of a Hawaiian garden. Several varieties of kalo, two varieties of ‘uala, three varieties of sugar cane, noni, kukui, and assorted other la‘au lapa‘au (medicinal) or endemic Hawaiian plants were planted with the goal of teaching students to provide sustenance—food for the body and food for the mind—with plants that are meaningful to and respectful of Hawai‘i’s rich cultural traditions and environment.

The year ended with the donation of a new aquaponics system to the courtyard garden. The first crop produced golden tilapia, kalo, herbs, and leafy greens that were incorporated into a Food and Family Night designed to cultivate food knowledge in the home and create opportunities for families to eat healthy, locally-sourced, student-crafted food together. Project Pono students and their families harvested or purchased at farmer’s markets all the food served at this free educational event, and every Project Pono student had a hand in preparing the food.