A concept that Waimea High School Principal Bill Arakaki wants to expand schoolwide is project-based learning built around rigor, relevance and relationships.
A teacher who excels at actualizing the concept is Billy DeCosta.
“Mr. DeCosta connects content and desired outcomes with real life, hands-on type of activities,” Arakaki said.
The hands-on types of activities include making signs, picnic benches and even puppet shows.
Paradise Mill Works in Puhi donates to DeCosta’s program pieces of lumber that would normally be discarded.
DeCosta’s students recycle the pieces of scrap lumber into products that benefit the community.
Lance Palama, whose children attend WHS, donates scraps of koa wood. Instead of leaving the wood to decompose in the forest, Palama hands them over to DeCosta.
“The students run the pieces of lumber on the saws, trim it down, cut out letters, words and pictures and recycle into products that they donate to the community,” DeCosta said.
Student-made signs are already in the community, like the one for the Waimea police station and the Japanese cemetery next to Kikiaola Small Boat harbor.
They are currently working on signs for Kalaheo School, St. Theresa School and their own Waimea High School.
The sign for St. Theresa School was especially challenging. Chucky Pimental cut out a cross from a log of koa. The painting of each leaf of the maile lei was tedious.
The class has only a jig saw, so intricate work is difficult, causing letters to break. “The more they work with the saw, the better it gets,” DeCosta said.
The biggest project will be a sign for the Koke‘e Discovery Center which the students want to donate in memory of David Boynton. It will be done in two parts.
The top will be a picture of Halemanu Waterfall with the Alaka‘i swamp in the back. The bottom will be the Koke‘e Discovery Center sign. Rare birds and a koa tree will be featured on each side to represent the idea of conservation.
The picnic table for Kekaha School was made “from scratch.”
DeCosta said he learned his carpentry skills from others while he was working in the public sector as a longshoreman at the docks.
“We need to share that kind of knowledge with our youth,” he said. “Not everyone will become doctors and lawyers; we need to groom our students in all areas.”
DeCosta helps his students achieve the Hawai‘i Content and Performance standards through the various projects.
As they measure to construct a picnic table, they apply math standards.
As they cut angles to form the decorative pieces on their signs, they are applying math standards.
As they learn about recycling pieces of wood from forest trees, they are applying science standards.
DeCosta’s students are also preparing to present puppet shows at Kekaha Elementary and Waimea Canyon School students. As they learn to write their own scripts, they are applying English standards.
The final performances will give the students an opportunity to demonstrate the Hawai‘i Department of Education’s General Learner Outcomes, essential goals of all academic disciplines that “enable learners to lead full and productive lives.”
“When you tie everything (standards and general learner outcomes) into hands-on projects, you can tell how engaged the kids are,” DeCosta said. “They take ownership.”
DeCosta creates small groups, each group having a role to play similar to a company. He has his artists, his crafters and his producers.
He also has students leading students. Rayna Teeter, a ninth-grade student, is in charge of the group that paints. DeCosta calls her the “next Picasso.” She is on-loan from the art class taught by Monica Adams.
“It’ s not only me,” DeCosta said.
He credits the help of his Department Head Kim Frasco and colleague Nalani Shigematsu, along with Adams for the success of his program.
Frasco said DeCosta’s program helps students get interested in a trade, which supports the department’s transition program.