‘White House’ turns green before school starts

LIHU‘E — When Yoshi Nakao retired from Elsie Wilcox Elementary School, he became the president.

He led an agricultural program at the White House, a 13-year old fabric structure designed to house the hydroponic gardening arrangement at the Lihu‘e school.

Wilcox Elementary now has a new greenhouse, made possible through a $77,945 Youth Advisory Board grant from State Farm Insurance.

Nakao was recently honored during the opening ceremonies of the new gardening building.

“We’re excited because this is the first grant of this type in the state,” said Darrelynn Lemke, a Wilcox School alumni who remembers Nakao while she was in school. “Yoshi was here when I was here and like how he enjoys helping the community, State Farm Insurance enjoys helping the community as well.”

Natalie Hiwahiwa Joyce-Maeda, describing herself as the “White House grant coordinator,” said the path leading to the new green (and white) house involved many facets. But they all centered on “The Seven Hawaiian Values” which govern life at Wilcox School.

The ‘ike, or wisdom, one of the seven values, was used to introduced the event. Joyce-Maeda noted that the values are so important to the school, students created a mural on the walls of one of the school’s buildings.

Those values — ‘ike; kokua, or helping; kuleana, one’s own responsibility; ‘ohana, or family, friends and community; laulima, or working together; ho‘oponopono, or making things right; and aloha, or love, care — played a part in Wilcox School getting its new greenhouse.

The building was constructed by Nathan Wood in time for the school’s opening, Monday.

“These seven Hawaiian values are represented by traditional words,” Joyce-Maeda said. “I would like to say one more word which has become more of a ‘buzz word’ these days — sustainable.”

She said her favorite definition for this word came at the statewide Garden Teacher’s Conference over the summer. That definition was “sharing” — sustainability is sharing.

It was these principles which led Ernest Dela Cruz, principal of the school in 1998, to found the hydroponics program. Dela Cruz stopped by briefly to see the new building on his way to the airport.

“It was Mr. Yoshi, the hydroponics program head, or ‘president’ of the ‘old White House,’ who shared the vision with Mr. Dela Cruz back in 1998,” Joyce-Maeda said. “Mr. Yoshi took on the kuleana of running the hydroponics program in 1998 and here he is, still full of aloha, always there to ho‘oponopono with plants, people and machinery.”

William Arakaki, the Kaua‘i Area Complex superintendent, said Nakao is an example of a lifelong learner.

“He is retired, but is a lifelong learner,” Arakaki said. “The hydroponics program teaches students not only agriculture, but science, and is related to mathematics — all 21st Century skills which lead to making a student career-ready.”

Gail Naka‘ahiki, the Kaua‘i Complex business manager, said she, too, remembers Nakao from when she was a student at Wilcox School.  And Lynn Antonio, administrative services assistant for the Kaua‘i Central Complex, said the greenhouse design was Nakao’s choice after he visited another school’s project.

“When he wants something, he wants it right,” Antonio said. “There were other models which were less in cost, but Yoshi can get stubborn, and he insisted on this particular model.”

Terry Proctor, principal of Wilcox Elementary School, said the hydroponic program is a model of sustainability and Nakao’s involvement and dedication to the program gives the school an extra security guard “because he’s always around, making sure things are locked and working in and around ‘The White House.’”

Proctor said it was the efforts of a parent, Linda Sciaroni, who found out about the grant that made the new greenhouse possible.

“She prepared the application by herself and was so excited when she came to see me,” Proctor said. “I told her the grant involves a lot of work and responsibility, but she was not phased. We got the grant, and she left.”

Now living in California, Sciaroni’s enthusiasm was felt in the rainbow which appeared as the closing oli was offered.

Proctor said all the children have an opportunity to come through the hydroponics program, and under a separate module of the grant, classes are now planting small gardens of herbs outside of their classrooms.

Joyce-Maeda said the greenhouse is just the first phase.

There will be more sheds which need to be added and Nakao pointed out his seed starting setup — which is not accommodated in the new greenhouse — occupies the same footprint as the old “White House.”

“It has a higher roof, but that plastic needs some venting because of the wind,” Nakao said. “Otherwise, it won’t last.”

Joyce-Maeda said the former “White House” will be recycled through the efforts of Karen Gunderson of the Kaua‘i Invasive Species Committee and will be used to grow orchids or anthuriums.

Under the grant, the school’s kindergarten class has already started its three modules, including growing plants, gaining an awareness of financial literacy and maintaining a journal of plants’ growth. They also started a program to buy more new seeds by creating and selling a cookbook.

Joyce-Maeda said the program was so successful, the kindergarten class made more than enough to buy new seeds and now have a program which will continue to ensure a supply of seeds and supplies for their garden.

Wood said while energy alternatives are where the money is at for contractors, he was happy to do the project for the kids because everyone needs to eat.

Nakao’s only disappointment of the day was the failure of Kaua‘i Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. to appear for the blessing.

“I was ready to play my bass to accompany him on a song,” Nakao said, breaking out the pakini bass and providing an impromptu concert for the guests.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.

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