Hilo’s Connections Public Charter School: Student-powered Learning

Within an hour of landing at the Hilo airport on The Big Island of Hawaii, I walked into the K-12 Connections Public Charter School, one of the oldest charter schools in Hawaii. Established in 2000, the younger grades are located in a former department store, with spacious hallways and high ceilings. You can see the ocean from the front door. Upon arriving midday, imagine my surprise to find young ladies and gentlemen waltzing with each other in the central activity area! They were dancing to music played by their classmates on a nearby stage.

No, the teachers weren’t coaxing them. The dancing was launched just two weeks before by a male student who wanted to create this dance learning opportunity. Not only was this young man driving this activity with the support of his teachers, but other students rallied around him to participate and provide the music. The pictures tell the story.

More than three-quarters of this highly diverse school population of about 350 students live in poverty. What I observed was a principal and staff team committed to helping students take charge of their own learning and their own lives. They emphasize learning, not teaching, and encourage and accept learner autonomy and initiative. The learner’s natural curiosity is nurtured with project-based learning.

And the students love their learning. They love learning so much that many stay after school every day as late as 6:00 in “Studio Shaka” to work on their personal passion, whether it be break-dancing or high-level Adobe video technology.

Check out this amazing timelapse video created by Studio Shaka 17-year old student Raiatea Arcuri called “From Mountain to Ocean / A Big Island Timelapse Journey.” It is a one year time-lapse photo project reducing 30,000 captured photos into a final film of 6,000 photos. The music is created in collaboration with a New Zealand college student as part of the High Tech Youth Network. The 3-minute video is currently a finalist in the Adobe Youth Voices Awards.

The High Tech Youth Network, with origins in New Zealand, is just getting started in the U.S. Find out next week why this network is 21st  century education at its finest!