Posted on: February 25, 2013

Keiki E.C.O. Day Offers Environmental Education for Maui Schoolchildren

About 300 elementary school students gathered at Kalama Park in Kihei on Friday, February 15 for a day of outdoor environmental education as part of Pacific Whale Foundation's 4th Annual Keiki E.C.O. (Educating Children Outdoors) Day. 

Second grade students from Kihei Elementary School, fourth grade students from Makawao Elementary School and second, third and fourth graders from Kihei Charter School attended this free conference, which included a keynote address by astronomer Harriet Witt, environmental education workshops and a concert by the Banana Slug String Band of Santa Cruz, California.
The event was organized and hosted by Pacific Whale Foundation's marine education team and utilized some of the tents and facilities set up for World Whale Day which took place the following day. The free event and free bus transportation for the students was funded by profits from Pacific Whale Foundation's whalewatches and other ocean ecotours, sales in Pacific Whale Foundation's Ocean Stores and its restaurant Porto, and from donations by members and supporters worldwide, plus Pacific Whale Foundation's "No Child Left Indoors" scholarship fund. 
The theme of this year's event was "Using Nature as Your Classroom." Teachers and their classes each participated in two workshops throughout the day, offered by environmental nonprofits, government agencies and others. 
The workshops were led by:
* Abe Vandenberg, Maui Invasive Species Committee
* Merrill Kaufman, Pacific Whale Foundation
* Nikole Davis, NOAA Fisheries
* Kirk Surry, Grow Some Good
* Honeygirl Duman and Wendy Swee, Haleakala National Park
* Rebekah Kuby, Community Workday
* Mark and Cindi Wadlow, Ho’aloha aina
* Dan Kuhar, Kihei Charter School
* Allison Wiest, East Maui Watershed
* Anne Gachuhi,  Home Gardening Support Network
* Duane Sparkman, Maui Cultural Lands
* Betsy Davidson, Pacific Whale Foundation Research
* Wilma Nakamura, Joy of Worms
* Vince Mina, Kahanu Aina Greens
Second grade students in Merrill Kaufman's "What's Up, What's Down" workshop used a variety of simple tools to conduct and record field investigations from a variety of perspectives. The team from Ho'aloha Aina taught students about the importance of trails along shorelines where birds like the u'au nest and practiced building a shoreline trail.
Anne Guchuhi with the Home Gardening Support Network engaged children in an investigation about the natural decomposition process -- also known as nature's recycling system. 
Rebekah Kuby of Community Work Day sent children on a search that employed their five senses and investigational skills to find plants that responded to clues, such as "spiraling leaf growth, spiky edges, looks like a pineapple." (Answer: hala tree.) 
Kirk Surry with Grow Some Good taught the children all about pollination and gave each child a plant of their own to take home. Haleakala National Park staff taught the children about the importance of keeping dogs on leashes and the impact of feral cats on u'au eggs in shoreline nests. 
And Nicole Davis of NOAA Fisheries gave the children a lesson in how to protect Hawaiian Monk Seals, and advised them that "If you stick your arm out and can cover your view of the monk seal with your thumb, you are keeping the right distance from a monk seal on the beach."  
Children were challenged to a waste-free lunch contest. At lunchtime, a prize was awarded to the class that produced the least amount of trash waste from their lunches. 
"During Keiki E.C.O. Day, children learned about 'Snacks You Can Grow' from Vincent Mina. They learned about how important compost is while eating freshly cut sprouts from Vincent's farm," says Karen Molina, Youth Education Manager at Pacific Whale Foundation and Keiki E.C.O. Day Coordinator. "After lunch, they rocked out at the park with the Banana Slug String Band's irresistible and fun tunes that promote ocean conservation."
"It is Pacific Whale Foundation’s priority and mission to connect children with nature," says Mollina. "Keiki E.C.O. Day is a day that combines fun, learning and being outdoors, with the goal of inspiring all children to appreciate, enjoy and protect the natural world around us."
Keiki E.C.O. Day is part of the Maui Whale Festival, a series of events from late January through March that celebrate and honor the humpback whales that arrive here each winter. To learn more, visit