As we look around at all the snow in backyards and piled along road edges, most of us are probably tired of winter and dream of heading somewhere warm and green, maybe even straight to a steamy climate. But have you ever heard of tropical residents coming to wintery northern Wisconsin on purpose?
Connections Public Charter School from Hilo, Hawaii, did just that last April when its administrator Eric Boyd reached out to me at Class ACT Charter School to make good on a plan we hatched a year earlier at the Innovative Schools Network Conference in Wisconsin Dells.
Class ACT students had just presented their project where they built a mobile lab in the rear of a retired school bus, and Boyd was in the audience. During their presentation, the students shared how they obtained funding, researched lab designs, installed lab counters and cabinets, and created the logo design, all while standing in their shiny green bus with Boyd and other people from across the nation.
Class ACT students’ action plan and passion for successfully getting their own bus on the road inspired Boyd to bring students from Hawaii to do something similar — share the history of ukuleles and their importance to Hawaiian life and their school.
That set the foundation for Class ACT to host Connections in a project-based learning exchange. The Hawaiians taught us how to build ukuleles and their cultural significance. Class ACT taught the Hawaiians how young forest management at the school forest improves habitat for ruffed grouse, American woodcock, and other wildlife.
Ultimately, the story couldn’t end more beautifully. Class ACT organized tours of their school, Flambeau River Papers, the Tracy Lake School Forest, and a backyard maple syrup operation. They topped off the visit by serving their newfound tropical friends with ice cream swimming in hot maple syrup straight from the evaporator pan and a pancake breakfast with more homemade syrup.
The Hawaiian students taught Class ACT about the wooden parts of the ukulele made from the Kao tree along with traditional songs they play and sing. They also taught the local students that ukuleles are made by hand and unique to each individual. Ukulele owners keep the instrument their entire lives as well as learn to play it as small children. School life includes the ukulele and music.
Tempesta, a sophomore at the time said, “My favorite parts of the Hawaiians’ visit were seeing their reaction to snow and hearing about their culture.” Tempesta said he was surprised to learn that ukuleles, which are sacred to the Hawaiians, were not brought from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland until World War II when soldiers brought them home as souvenirs.
So this is how it goes at Class ACT. A simple conversation at lunch turns into new friends, new experiences, and new learning. And it doesn’t stop there.
Now, Class ACT kids are fundraising for an educational student trip to Connections Charter School in Hilo to experience Hawaiian culture, history, geography and more.
If you would like to donate to their Hawaii fund, or would like to learn more about Class ACT in general, please contact the school at email@example.com or 715-762-2474 ext. 2264.
If you are interested in enrolling in the school, please submit an online application by April 30. Paper applications can be obtained from staff at any time. Space is limited to 36 students per year.
This article's author, Paula Zwicke, is an advisor for Class ACT Charter School.