A new Honolulu charter school teaches sustainability

A new Kaimuki research-driven charter school, called SEEQS, gets students outside of the class, solving real-world issues.

illustration: jason takeuchi

Many students spend much of their school day behind a desk listening to the teacher lecture, but for the sixth- and seventh-graders at the School for Examining Essential Questions of Sustainability, or SEEQS, as everyone calls it, the most important classroom is the community around them. Go into Whole Foods Kahala and you might see a group of middle schoolers, all in green T-shirts, meeting with the staff and exploring the store’s operations. SEEQS students will also learn from students in the KCC Culinary Arts program.

These are more than just fun field trips, says school leader and founder Buffy Cushman-Patz. These real-world experiences are critical to their education, making  math, science, history and English skills more exciting and relevant. The community interaction leads to student-driven projects, such as examining food waste at grocery stores, designing a native plant garden and more.

“Every lesson has a hands-on activity,” she says. “Everyone loves to do things, and we know that’s how people learn.”

Sustainability often gets treated as just the latest trendy buzzword. But here, instead of reading about germination or composting, the students will get their hands dirty and do it themselves. SEEQS is partnering with educational organization The Green House to teach students how to grow a garden. There’s space on campus for up to five gardens, says Cushman-Patz. It’s one of the main projects during this, the school’s first-ever semester.

Gardening isn’t the only physical activity with which SEEQS students start each day; they also play basketball, ultimate Frisbee, do yoga or dance hula. “There’s a mind, body connection [when it comes to learning], it gets the brain flowing,” says Cushman-Patz.

The afternoon is spent in the Essential Question of Sustainability, or EQS class, where all the school’s students and teachers come together. The students share what they learned off campus and together work to answer one question (a different one each semester).

This semester’s: What do we eat and why? “There’s no one right answer,” says Cushman-Patz.

For more information on SEEQS, visit seeqs.org.