The Green Leaf

A school for sustainability

June 10th, 2013
SEEQS has an impressive roster of founding board members and advisors, L to R, Mark Hines, Irene Kelly, Chuck Giuli, school leader Buffy Cushman-Patz, Don Ingram, Carole Ota, Deborah Faber, Rachel Orange. Courtesy photo.

SEEQS has an impressive roster of founding board members and advisors, L to R, Mark Hines, Irene Kelly, Chuck Giuli, school leader Buffy Cushman-Patz, Don Ingram, Carole Ota, Deborah Faber, Rachel Orange. Courtesy photo.

There's a new option for parents who plan to send their kids to public charter school — the School for Examining Essential Questions of Sustainability. Or simply, SEEQS (pronounced "seeks").

Enrollment is now open for 6th and 7th graders in the upcoming school year, 2013-2014. The campus is located at Cottage Five of the Salvation Army's facilities at 845 22nd Ave. in Kaimuki.

Founder and school leader Buffy Cushman-Patz has a vision of a learning environment in which students and teachers have a significant voice in shaping the learning experiences. It's a school where learning experiences will be grounded in real life, by bringing real life into the classroom and making real life – and the natural environment — part of the classroom.

A quick glance at the student schedule shows how different it is. The day starts at 8:30 a.m. with a physical activity, followed by core classes like math, science, history and English. There's time blocked out for artistic expressions, community building and afternoons dedicated to exploring an essential question of sustainability involving all disciplines.

Cushman-Patz says a whole week will be dedicated to field trips. If the question students are examining, for example, is "How does water sustain us?" that might involve treks to the Board of Water Supply, the Reppun Farm (to learn about its history and legal battles over access to streams) and UH's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

The best way to get students — or anyone — to understand the importance of sustainability is not to preach, but to help them reach that conclusion themselves. This makes a lot of sense.

Cushman-Patz, a former math and science teacher at La Pietra, holds a master's of education from Harvard Graduate School of Education's School Leadership Program, and a master's in geology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. It was while completing an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship at the National Science Foundation's Office of Legislative and Public Affairs that she was inspired to start SEEQS.

The campus is in a quiet Kaimuki neighborhood with plenty of space shaded by trees. Inside, Cushman-Patz says walls will be opened up and designed for sustainability as much as possible. Outside, there's plenty of room for gardens and an aquaponics system, at the initiative of students, of course.

I think the best part of it all is that it's tuition-free (though a $100 supply fee is requested).

SEEQS is running a rockethub campaign to raise startup funds until 1 p.m. today. If you don't make that deadline, you can still help out the school by donating your time or funds.

SEEQS will be at Cottage Five at 845 22nd Avenue. Plenty of room for school gardens and maybe an aquaponics system. Photo courtesy of Buffy Cushman-Patz.

SEEQS will be at Cottage Five at 845 22nd Avenue. There's plenty of room for school gardens and maybe an aquaponics system. Photo courtesy of Buffy Cushman-Patz.

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