While it has been a long time since I stepped into a classroom, the second I walked onto Pahala Elementary School’s campus a flood of memories of my own school days came rushing back. I remember coming into the first class of the day and still wanting time to chat with my friends. I remember the small tables and chairs that I know I used to fit into, though now it’s difficult to imagine. And while I remember the class bells ringing in school, yesterday I was very nearly shocked out of my skin when the bell signaled the start of class. I guess that’s the sort of thing you never notice as a kid.
That morning I had the pleasure of assisting Robin Keith, a member of the Conservation Education Division at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, in administering an essay contest to the sixth- and seventh-grade classes of Pahala Elementary and Ka‘u High School in Pahala, Hawaii. This essay contest was designed to discover a student’s own interpretation of, and experiences with, wildlife. The information will help guide our conservation education and outreach programs in support of our Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program. Some students struggled at the beginning, not really sure what to write about, but in the end they all submitted great stories. Two winners will be chosen at random, and that student will be taking his or her entire class on a field trip to the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii.
After the essay portion of the class, Robin spoke about current conservation issues facing Hawaii and about techniques used at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center (KBCC) for saving native Hawaiian birds. Then it was my turn to field any questions that the students had about KBCC. I have spent the past six years working with some of the most endangered and difficult-to-rear bird species in Hawaii, but when it came to commanding the attention of 12 and 13 year olds, I was a bit daunted. Usually, when I’m presenting information about my job, I’m in my workplace with every conceivable prop and medium available to showcase the native birds. Here, however, I was standing at the front of the classroom with nothing but my strong voice, great bird conservation information, a smile, and enthusiasm for my job! In the end, I hope the students walked away with a great writing exercise and some valuable information about Hawaiian bird conservation. I walked away from the campus hoping that I had planted at least one seed of love and respect for native Hawaiian wildlife.
I must send out a very big mahalo (thank you, in Hawaiian) to the teachers of Pahala Elementary and Ka‘u High School for allowing Robin and me to invade their classes and for their enthusiasm in teaching their students environmental education. Another very big mahalo to the wonderful students, who had excellent questions about the birds and embraced the essay-writing challenge. We look forward to future collaborations with students and teachers on the Big Island as we work to foster pride and support for conservation of Hawaii’s natural heritage.
Rebecca Espinoza is a research associate at the San Diego Zoo’s Keauhou Bird Conservation Center.