KALAHEO — Kalaheo School fifth-grader Linnea Ellis was stoked to be digging through dozens of green bottle caps in the gym on Thursday.
But it wasn’t just that she got to get out of the classroom and be part of an art project that involved the entire class.
It was because she got to make that art with U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, who dropped by the school before her engagement as keynote speaker for the “Women Leading with Impact” seminar at the Kauai Beach Resort.
“It’s fun to be working with her, and it’s an honor to meet her face to face,” Ellis said. “She’s really nice.”
Together with other students, Ellis and Hirono were gluing bottle caps to a piece of plywood, making a large sign that says “Refuse.” It’s one of several signs that are going up above the school’s recycling bins outside.
Fifth-grade teacher Marly Madayag explained the classwide project is aimed at raising awareness about reducing waste and recycling. When they finish the project, the four signs will say “Refuse,” “Reduce,” “Reuse” and “Recycle.”
“The whole thing is a message to our community to choose better. We should chose compostable and biodegradable products (and) focus on reduction before we get to recycling,” Madayag said.
She used the analogy of an overflowing sink. To stop the problem of water going all over the floor, you have to cut off the flow of water from the tap before mopping up the water.
“You can’t just try and wipe it up and not cut off the source,” Madayag said. “My hope with this is that Kalaheo School will be a leader in environmental education here.”
The exit project is something that’s required every year of those graduating from the fifth-grade. It’s a culmination of all they’ve learned from kindergarten through fifth-grade, and incorporates critical thinking, community interviews, hands-on projects and data collection and assimilation.
Ocean trash was a topic presented by Kalaheo School Principal Erik Burkman, and then the kids were set to the task of problem-solving and looking at all the angles of how potential solutions would impact the community.
“One solution they came up with was to change people’s minds,” Madayag said.
So, the class decided to make signs out of marine debris and recyclable materials, promoting awareness of not only recycling, but making choices that reduce waste.
Surfrider Kauai had a big hand in making sure Hirono was aware of the project as well — Vice Chair Barbara Weidner made contact while in Washington, D.C., in March. Surfrider then again was in contact with Hirono’s office as they prepared to visit Kauai for the Women Leading with Impact seminar.
Hirono said she was looking forward to being part of the project.
“Marine debris in our oceans and streams is a huge problem around the world,” she said. “Thank you. You guys are champions in recycling.”
As she entered the gym, Hirono was given a lei by fifth-grader Finnian Windler.
“This is my first year at Kalaheo School,” Windler said. “I’m so excited to meet the senator.”
Jessica Else, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.