Hawaiʻi is an isolated island chain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that is desperately short of landfill space and good soil. Located on the windward side of Oahu in beautiful Kailua, Kaʻōhao School has embraced a growing worldwide environmental movement that embraces a philosophy encouraging the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused.

In the school setting, zero-waste programs create a mindset with the potential to go beyond the basics of reduce, reuse, and recycle. Last school year, the program turned more than 55 tons of unfinished sandwiches, milk, and other food waste into exceptional compost for our school gardens. My virtual tour features our students in action in Kaʻōhao School’s zero-waste program, but with appropriate technology and a solid waste-based educational plan, a viable solution for all schools could be only a few decades away.

Worms and Waste

The Environmental Protection Agency recognized our zero-waste efforts in 2017, naming Kaʻōhao School the No. 1 school in the nation for food recovery. Our school program has been featured in local, national, and international forums as an educational model because of its problem-based, hands-on approach to student learning. We want our students to apply their knowledge in real-world situations and generalize them to any context of learning. Learning is only enhanced by these efforts, as Kaʻōhao has been the top-performing public school in Hawaiʻi in the areas of math, science, and English language arts.

In 2015, a 10-foot pipeline vermicomposting system, which uses live worms to compost waste materials, was installed at our school. Within a few months, the school had all other composting operations in place, achieving 100 percent organics recycling and much more. The school has a large and robust garden, which is now entirely supported by the vermicast (the end product of vermicomposting), compost, bokashi (fermented organic waste), and biochar created from the school’s “waste” products. Students use the very compost created from the food waste they generate to nourish our gardens. Cardboard boxes are shredded to make bedding for composting worms, and the mulch from the yearly tree trimming is wheelbarrowed around to restore the health of the schoolyard. All students actively participate in every aspect of resource recovery cycles.

Kaʻōhao School’s goal to achieve zero waste on campus has profoundly changed the ways both adults and children approach a sustainable lifestyle and way of life. Kaʻōhao School’s zero-waste revolution has led to new reusable energy captured from the daily “waste” produced during lunch and snack times. Zero-waste practices and values have expanded beyond our school and into the larger community, and our school is making a concerted effort to push outside the walls of the classroom by promoting, “Thinking Outside the Box, Learning Outside the Classroom.”

Making It Work

This is how Kaʻōhao School leads the zero-waste revolution:

  • We allow the students to take an active and leading role in the sustainability of the zero-waste program. Kaʻōhao students are responsible, inquisitive, and articulate, and they are the ones making a better future and healthier planet for the rest of the world.
  • We partner with parents who want their children to be contributing citizens of the world. Parents have offered to volunteer, research, fundraise, and write grants to help the cause and continue a sustainable future for all Kaʻōhao students and families.
  • Our school administration, staff, and faculty is 100 percent committed to zero-waste goals. It is clear, as evidenced by the food waste captured and processed in composting, that it is the culture of the school to reduce, reuse, and recycle. The school ʻohana—our school family—is dedicated and willing to make the adjustments required for real and lasting change.
  • We have a well-developed core for science, technology, engineering, and math and an emphasis on project-based learning, both of which are amply supported by the program. The zero-waste program provides many opportunities to explore the essential question, “How exactly does this planet work, and where do I fit in?”

This blog is part of NASSP’s Virtual Tour Series. Be sure to visit NASSP’s Facebook page on March 11 at 3:00 p.m. (ET) to participate in the live tour. Winston Sakurai will also be leading the #PrinLeaderChat on Twitter on March 15 at 9:00 p.m. (ET).

Winston Sakurai is the director and principal of Kaʻōhao School in Kailua, HI. He is the 2016 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter at @WinstonSakurai.


About the Author

Winston Sakurai is the director and principal of Kaʻōhao School in Kailua, HI. He is the 2016 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter at @WinstonSakurai.

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