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Students Tackle Environmental Challenges

Aka`ula School students took on the examination of a variety of Molokai’s environmental issues during the school’s 20th annual PRISM Symposium two weeks ago. Using comprehensive research augmented by surveys of Molokai residents, student groups dove head first into topics that ranged from controversial to thought provoking.

Aka`ula uses a curriculum called Investing and Evaluating Environmental Issues and Actions (IEEIA), developed by Dr. Harold Hungerford, who was a special guest at this year’s event.

“[Aka`ula leadership] believe[s] that IEEIA is a great curriculum because it doesn’t teach reading, writing, and math separately,” wrote eighth-grader Hina Chow in a recent Aka`ula School newsletter. “It involves reading research articles and writing background essays, looking at all sides of an issue, networking with experts, using math and critical thinking to ‘number crunch’ and analyze our data, and finally, creating a presentation to share with our community. As young students we feel we have a lot to offer, and we know we can make a difference.”
Aka`ula founder Victoria Newberry became certified in the method, and with Hungerford’s blessing, started the School in 2003, using IEEIA as a foundation, according to eighth-grader Gracie DeVera-Kuahuia.
This year’s Symposium was held at the Molokai Community Health Center on March 17, and along with student presentations, featured a car show and book signing events with Hungerford. PRISM stands for Providing Resolutions with Integrity for a Sustainable Molokai.

“We selected this year’s symposium theme, population growth, because the number of people on the planet affects the condition of the environment,” said Isla James, a freshman. “More people means more demand on resources, the loss of biodiversity, and increased waste management issues.”
Another theme selected by students was water security.
“Water related diseases affect more than 1.5 billion people every year,” said freshman Skylar Kalama.
Students presented their research, including results from Molokai resident surveys, on a variety of meaningful and relevant topics affecting the environment.
In his group’s examination of the question, “Should oxybenzone products be banned in Hawaii,” junior Dillon DeCoite said one drop of oxybenzone — a common ingredient in sunscreen — can affect one acre of coral reef. The ingredient, used in more than 3500 sunscreens, contributes to coral bleaching, he said. The group looked at current state legislation that seeks to ban oxybenzone, and Geovanni Ka`apuni said 85 percent of their survey respondents thought a ban should be in place.
Another student investigation examined whether feral cats should be euthanized on Molokai. The group’s data showed that the current feral cat population on Molokai estimated by the HUmane Society is between 2500 and 3000, but biologist Arleone Dibben-Young estimates it much higher at more than 14,000. Feral cats can carry toxoplasmosis, which has been known to endanger Hawaiian monk seals, dolphins and native birds. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed agreed with euthanasia as an acceptable solution to the problem, and the group’s data showed another 28 percent as neutral on euthanasia. Li`ula Busby, Laila Juario and Mamo Kapuni inferred those who were neutral had qualms about killing an animal associated with being a family pet.
Other presentations included examination of a polystyrene ban in Hawaii, a coral gardening program on Molokai, mangrove eradication, reducing coral sedimentation, a county ban on single-use plastic water bottles, desalination on Molokai, the affect of knowledge on the use pesticides and herbicides, an Adopt a Beach program, and shaping Na`iwa’s environment in the future.
Students Gracie DeVera Kuahuia and Hina Chow earned the PRISM Environmental Award at the close of the evening.

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