Kohala High students win Kalo Challenge

May 13—The event was the finale of a yearlong project that involved at-promise students from across the state who spent the year learning about the cultural practice of cultivating kalo.

Students from Kohala High School took home the winning prize in the state Department of Education's Alternative Learning Programs, Supports and Serv ­ices inaugural Kalo Challenge on Friday.

The event was the finale of a yearlong project that involved at-promise students from across the state who spent the year learning about the cultural practice of cultivating kalo.

"Too many times our students are dropping out when they're not successful, " said Kristy Nishimura, director of the DOE's Alternative Learning Branch. "So (we're ) offering a continuum for our students to be successful so they can earn their high school credits and graduate with a diploma, while supporting them socially, emotionally, academically, behaviorally and really trying to connect them to post-secondary goals and outcomes."

The event took place at Kupu Hawaii's Ho 'okupu Center, where students from Pahoa and Kohala High School on Hawaii island and the Honolulu district presented their projects, along with poi and other dishes made from the kalo they grew. Each project was scored by a panel of judges who determined the winner based on a variety of factors including students' slide show presentation, the taste of their dishes and the size of each group's kalo.

The competition gave students the opportunity to learn the cultural practice of cultivating kalo while also fulfilling a year's worth of their school credits, Nishi ­mura said.

"They have to provide English, science, social studies, whatever the student needs, " Nishimura said. "Calculations like the area of the land, and they had to figure out for themselves what that area would be."

The competition was made possible by a series of bills passed over recent years that have steadily increased funding for the state's Alternative Learning Programs, she said. Also in attendance was Senate Vice President Michelle Kidani and Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, who have supported the legislation that now funds the programs.

Each of the three groups' presentations included the story of how kalo came to be, according to Native Hawaiian moolelo. They also detailed how they decided on which varieties of kalo to grow, the methods they used to cultivate the crop, its growth timeline, the plants' measurements and more. Students also explained the challenges they faced and how the experience helped them grow as people.

Students from Pahoa High School pointed out that the experience taught them how to work together. Despite the project being strenuous at times, it gave them a skill that they could take home to their families, they said.

Those from the Honolulu district said that they learned to bring their good intentions and positivity into their work, and how a simple change can affect the resulting product.

Students from Kohala High School said the experience taught them that they could successfully learn an entirely new skill, which they looked forward to passing down to future generations.

Watching the students present clearly demonstrated the confidence they had built through the alternative learning classroom setting, Dela Cruz said.

"That they see themselves as people changed was inspiring to us, " Dela Cruz said. "And it gives us hope, but it also motivates us so that when we go back into session, how we can try to expand the programs to meet the entire state."------Linsey Dower covers ethnic and cultural affairs and is a corps member of Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues and communities.------