A hands-on outdoor classroom program that utilizes Native Hawaiian traditional planting knowledge, practices, and culture.

Impact Statement

Between 2011 and 2014, twenty-six independent preschools and Department of Education classrooms, serving 567 students participated in outdoor classroom activities at ten different sites created with the help of Kupu Ola. Since 2011, 2,351 parents, children, and community members increased their self-sufficiency by planting over 1,200 furnished plants at their homes. Through Kupu Ola, 131 teachers have increased their knowledge of the community and culture-based practices in the last two years.

About the Program

Kupu Ola — meaning to bring forth or sprout life — is a culture-based education (CBE) and outdoor classroom program that works collaboratively to bring project-based cultural programming into the schools for the benefit of youth and families. In the outdoor classrooms, students learn about native plants and Hawaiian cultural practices, weaving together culture and academics while emphasizing a connection to the land. Monthly events invite family, elders, and community partners to learn alongside youth, about Hawaiian language and cultural practices.

Kupu Ola’s outdoor classrooms help reach those students by engaging and motivating them in a hands-on setting and growing their connections to school, mentors, family, and community. Students experience success and grow their sense of self, leadership skills, and ability to engage in positive decision-making, reducing risky behaviors. At the same time, Kupu Ola creates an on-campus resource for training and mentorship for interested teachers who see the benefits and want to build CBE into their curriculum.  Kupu Ola programming is currently provided in schools on the Waiʻanae Coast.

What Are the Benefits of Kupu Ola?

  • Kupu Ola builds and reinforces Native Hawaiian culture, language, and traditions while reestablishing a connection to the land.
  • Outdoor instruction allows kinesthetic learners to thrive and can be used to teach math, science, literacy, art, and social and emotional skills.
  • Lessons in applied science are realized. Lessons in math are practiced by charting the growth of plants, measuring rainfall, and counting seeds.


Why Is Culture-Based Learning Important?

Unfortunately, the achievement gap is real and disproportionally affects Native Hawaiian students. Based on significant research, we know one of the main reasons for this is that the current American classroom is incongruent with the 2,000-year-old highly effective Native Hawaiian education system.

  • Hawai‘i State Assessment tests place Native Hawaiians ten percentage points lower than their peers in reading and math.
  • Absenteeism is a tremendous problem, and 30 percent of Native Hawaiian students fail to graduate from high school.
  • One in five Hawaiians attend special education classes, compared to only one in ten non-Hawaiians.

Cultural-based instruction allows our keiki to build relationships and engage in relevant learning; furthermore, it offers the potential for narrowing, if not closing, the education gap. Kupu Ola is a community development and educational empowerment program.

  • Kupu Ola shows keiki that their actions matter.
  • Kupu Ola taps into the community’s wealth of knowledge.
  • Kupu Ola provides a place for children to develop.

Kupu Ola will help plan and construct the outdoor classroom, provide supplies and materials, and work with teachers to develop effective lesson plans that engage students and help ensure that quality standards are being met.

If you are interested in partnering with Kupu Ola, please e-mail sanoetw@inpeace.org or call (808) 306-8161.

Kupu Ola is funded by the State of Hawai‘i Office Youth Services with some leveraged funding from the USDOE Native Hawaiian Education Program.