Dirty hands are the key to hands-on learning in Wailua

WAILUA — Awareness took on a whole new meaning recently as about 500 fifth grade students were immersed in activity.

“We let them move the baggage through,” said Brett LaFlamme of the United States Department of Agriculture. “Others got to watch the monitor to see what was inside.”

LaFlamme, an attendant with the USDA Animal, Plant and Health Inspection Service, Plant Protection Quarantine branch, was showing off the department’s new mobile inspection vehicle at the 11th Annual Agricultural & Environmental Awareness Day.

The mobile vehicle allows on-site agricultural inspection for incoming flights, air freight and other areas at the Lihu‘e Airport and Nawiliwili Harbor because inspectors can now drive to the affected areas instead of having cargo brought up to the terminal x-ray stations.

This hands-on approach was taken a step further when Jacqueline Kozak of the Kaua‘i Invasive Species Committee got students to become agricultural inspectors.

“This gives the students an opportunity to see what is involved in trying to keep invasive species from getting on the island,” Kozak said, smiling as she watched the students enjoy their new-found careers.

A young hand rummaged through packing material and resulted in an excited scream as packaging and an unidentified object went sailing through the air.

“You just introduced an invasive (species),” was the resulting comment from one of the leaders as students rummaged through various packages of fruits, plant material and items commonly found in passenger luggage.

“Our major objectives are to create a greater awareness and understanding of agriculture and the environment among students, teachers and the public,” said Roy Yamakawa, interim county administrator for the University of Hawai‘i Cooperative Extension Service, and Liz Ronaldson, president of the Kaua‘i County Farm Bureau.

Additionally, the event introduces students to career opportunities in agriculture and environmental studies, the leaders said.

Students were met with questionnaires on arriving at the UH Kaua‘i Agricultural Research Center in Wailua, and on making the tour through inter-active displays and exhibits produced by the 26 participating agencies and organizations, got answers to questions.

Successful completion of the questionnaire earned students eligibility to win premiums like t-shirts, pencils, hats, plants and other items contributed by the participating vendors.

Other groups who help to make this unique offering a reality for students in schools island-wide include the cadets from the Kapa‘a High School Jr. ROTC, the Kaua‘i High School Work Readiness Program, the Kaua‘i High School Future Farmers of America and the Agriculture Education program.

The county of Kaua‘i, the Hawai‘i Crop Improvement Association and Monsanto provide financial sponsorship for this event.

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