For Young Children, Nature is the Best Classroom!

Kona Pacific Public Charter School’s Forest Kindergarten is the first of its kind in Hawai‘i

Every day, rain or shine, the children in the Forest Kindergarten at Kona Pacific Public Charter School in Kealakekua make their way up the hill to a clearing in the trees above the school campus. Here, their forest classroom serves as a base for nature-based play, exploration and learning.

Today’s keiki are growing up in a time when childhood – even in Hawai‘i – is increasingly indoors and technologically enhanced. Families spend more time indoors and on screens, childhood obesity is up, and fitness is flagging. Journalist Richard Louv, who coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” in his 2005 book The Last Child in the Woods, helped inspire the USA movement to develop forest and nature-based kindergarten programs following the European model. Forest Kindergartens have existed in various forms since the mid 20thcentury in Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and the UK, and there are now thousands of thriving outdoor early childhood programs in Europe, New Zealand and Australia and Canada.

Kona Pacific Public Charter School’s Forest Kindergarten is at the Hawai‘i forefront of this innovative movement in early childhood education that is now sweeping across the USA. The first of its kind in Hawai’i, the school’s program began during the 2018/19 school year.

Worldwide research on outdoor kindergartens strongly suggests that time in nature can improve children’s cognitive functioning, academic performance and ability to focus, all while emphasizing developing the children’s’ relationship with nature. “The research strongly suggests that time in nature can help many children learn to build confidence in themselves; reduce the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, calm children, and help them focus,” says Louv. “There are some indications that natural play spaces can reduce bullying. It can also be a buffer to child obesity . . . and offers other psychological and physical health benefits.”

Kona Pacific offers two Forest Kindergarten classes in order to maintain small teacher to student ratios, led by Emily Kilgore and Chloe Miller and their teaching assistants. Emily and Chloe have both observed the therapeutic effects of adequate time spent in nature on the children.  As with traditional Waldorf kindergarten, the classes follow a daily, weekly and monthly rhythm, with both classes alternating the use of the enclosed Kinder Hale for indoor activities such as painting with watercolors, baking bread, and making soup, with each class spending 2 indoor hours at most, depending on which activities are offered each day.

The center of our academic offering in the Waldorf kindergarten, our language-rich and socially engaging circle and story times, regularly takes place in our magical forest setting.  We also bring along lots of wonderful handwork projects to work on in the forest such as finger knitting and sewing, as well as working with natural materials such as harvesting and braiding ti leaves and weaving vine crowns. There is time each day to cultivate our Kinder Garden, hike, and explore our school’s 38 acres. Children who are moving over uneven terrain, balancing and jumping, are developing their gross motor skills and self-confidence all while experiencing a deep connection to the rhythms of the forest.

Kona Pacific’s kindergarten program eases the children into school life while learning about the land and developing a deep respect for the beauty and bounty that it offers. As the children explore the forest, they find special fairy nooks and create woodland homes to spark imaginative play with friends. Immersing oneself in nature tends to melt away busy mornings or feelings of anxiety and sadness. Kindergarten is a time for planting the seeds of love and excitement for learning. As we cultivate the land with the children, they will be cultivating deep friendships, growing social skills, patience and conflict resolution, and laying the foundation for healthy relationships, healthy bodies, and an excitement for discovery.

At Kona Pacific’s Forest Kindergarten, there is no “bad” weather, just wrong weather gear. The teaching staff has in their arsenal lemon eucalyptus bug spray, a first aid kit, wipes, a change of clothes, and a cell phone handy. The children bring along their water bottles each day and a rain jacket and boots during the rainy season. Having a year’s experience in teaching outdoors, the Forest Kindergarten faculty have learned that Kona rains usually arrive after the children go home for the day. Since the forest offers cooler temperatures, the children are encouraged to wear pants, which helps protect from mosquitos.

For more information, please contact Kona Pacific’s Pedagogical Director, Greg Learned, at 322-4900 or

Notice of Prospect of Revocation

At its general meeting on March 14, the Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission voted to issue a “Notice of Prospect of Revocation” of the charter contract with Kona Pacific Public Charter School. On March 18, a letter was mailed to the staff and families of the school, informing them of this decision.

The revocation of the charter contract would result in the closure of the school. The notice is the first step in that process, which will proceed over the next few months.

On March 21, the governing board of KPPCS sent a letter to the commission staff and commissioners expressing the school’s concern that proper legal processes were not followed regarding the commission’s meeting and vote. The text of the letter is below; follow the “more” link for the full text of the letter.

The school will next be responding to the notice itself. In their letter to KPPCS staff and families, the commission listed concerns about various actions taken by Kona Pacific’s staff, director and governing board, as well as former staff, directors and governing boards. The school will be addressing all of the commission’s concerns in its formal response to the Notice of Prospect of Revocation.

To view the Notice of Prospect of Revocation, please see the commission’s website here.

21 March 2019

To: Sione Thompson, Executive Director, SPCSC Commissioners, Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission, 1111 Bishop Street, Suite 516 Honolulu, HI 96813

Dear Mr. Thompson and Commissioners,

We are writing regarding the Commission’s March 14 meeting concerning Kona Pacific Public Charter School and the subsequent March 18, 2019 letter to Kona Pacific Public Charter School’s staff and parents. We respectfully insist that the Hawaii State Public Charter School Commission immediately: a) rescind its letter, b) remove the message on the same subject posted on its web page, and c) rescind its vote to initiate the revocation process of our charter for the following reasons:

First, the Commission posted and promulgated its notice for the March 14, 2019 meeting on March 8, 2019. As you are aware, the Charter School Commission is subject to HRS Chapter 92 – Public Agency Meetings and Records. See HRS 302D-3(a). Per HRS Section 92-7(a), the Commission is required to give written public notice of “any regular, special, emergency, or rescheduled meeting.”  The meeting notice “shall include an agenda that lists all of the items to be considered at the forthcoming meeting.”  Per HRS Section 92-7(b), the Commission is required to post the meeting notice on its website and its office “[n]o less than six calendar days prior to the meeting.”  Per HRS Section 92-7(c), if the notice is posted on the Commission’s website less than six calendar days before the meeting, “the meeting shall be canceled as a matter of law and shall not be held.”

Although the agenda item “Update/Action on Intervention Protocol for Kona Pacific Public Charter School’s Notice of Concern Regarding Public Charter School Contract Violations and Performance Concerns” had been posted in advance of the deadline of six days prior, that meeting notice did not include an agenda that listed all of the items to be considered at the March 14 meeting, which constitutes a violation of HRS Section 92-7(a).

Second, the 7 bullet point list of agenda items of continued concern contained at pages 6 and 7 of the Commission’s public notice/agenda for its March 14, 2019 meeting does not correlate with issues actually addressed by Commission members at the March 14, 2019 meeting.

Per HRS Section 92-7(d), the Commission “shall not change the agenda, less than six calendar days prior to the meeting, by adding items thereto, without a two-thirds recorded vote of all members to which the board is entitled.” There is no evidence that this vote occurred, yet Commission members nevertheless failed to address any of the 7 issues listed on the agenda. Instead, Commission members grilled members of the Governing Board about a) alleged “illegality” of email voting as provided for in the school’s By-laws; b) alleged lease rent “overpayments”’ and c) discussion of “fears” expressed by a school staff members.

The Commission proceeded to question the School’s director, and Mr. Thompson asked him the following list of questions (not in this order, and not these precise words): a) You will definitely not be coming back to the school next year, is that correct? b) Have you had access to the school’s financial records at all times during your tenure? c) Were you informed when you took the job that there were commission concerns about past school enrollment procedures? d) Did a Friends board member enter the school office and threaten and intimidate a school employee? and e) Does the board often take email votes?

No advance notice of any of these topics was given to the Board, which was deprived of a meaningful opportunity to provide informed responses.

The Commission then justified its vote for a Prospect of Revocation of the School’s charter based partially on some of these concerns.

On these two grounds alone, the meeting was invalid, and the vote taken thereat is void. However there are additional reasons the Commission’s actions are subject to challenge for procedural and due process deficiencies.

Third, prior to the March 14, 2019 meeting, the Commission members were not provided with Kona Pacific’s written submission, which was timely submitted March 11, 2019 (see attached). This submission addressed the issues that the Commissioners verbally (more about this issue below) introduced at its February 28 special meeting, all regarding the school’s relationship with its associated non-profit, Friends of Kona Pacific Public Charter School.

Though the Governing Board had never received a Notice of Concern or any kind of written document outlining those matters, the Board was nevertheless trying to be cooperative and proactive in immediately addressing the Commissioners’ newly expressed concerns. Despite the fact that Mr. Thompson assured us via email that these materials would be provided to the Commission members prior to the meeting, such never in fact occurred. This alarming oversight further materially impaired the Governing Board’s ability to address the Commission’s concerns verbally raised at its March 14, 2019 meeting. More specifically, because the Commissioners never received our March 11, 2019 document, they revisited all of the questions they had already raised at the February 28 meeting under the apparent belief that the governing board had done nothing at all in the intervening period to address those concerns.

To further compound the failure to provide Kona Pacific’s written submission to the Commissioners, some of those same issues were subsequently included in the Commissions’ list of reasons for voting at that meeting for a Prospect of Revocation of the school’s charter.

Fourth, yet another new matter was raised at the March 14 Commission meeting without being properly agendized or noticed, namely concerns over the legality of a By-Law provision that purportedly permits Board voting via email. Instead of clearly identifying this important issue as an agenda item, it was first brought forward in the Commission staff’s March 12 submittal, which contained a paragraph stating that Commission staff were “unclear” about the propriety of this clause and any votes taken on the basis thereof. As a result, Board members were again blindsided and not provided with a meaningful opportunity to provide informed responses after consulting with legal counsel.

In addition, the By-Laws at issue predate the current Governing Board; and we believe that these Bylaws had been previously provided to the Commission for review.

Still more troubling is the fact that in December 2018, Commission staff member Sylvia Silva specifically agreed that the Governing Board could undertake an email vote to approve the January meeting minutes reflecting the vote to approve the school’s SY 2019-20 enrollment packet, in order for the Commission to accept the enrollment packet. While we recognize that Ms. Silva’s intention was to assist the school, it is clear the practice of email voting was well known to commission staff prior to the 3/14/19 meeting. Another example of this: Josh Deweerd, a support staff of HPCSC, has attended 3 out 5 board meetings during the new GB Chair’s term. The Chair took the opportunity to speak with Mr. DeWeerd on two of those visits, specifically asking for guidance or suggestions if he found any part of the meeting to be out of compliance or not in best practice. All three of the board meetings during his visits included discussion and ratification of email votes. The Chair also emailed a similar message to Ms. Silva after she attended a GB meeting in December.

Because the issue of email voting was not properly noticed, all pertinent facts were not disclosed to Commission members, including the above. Therefore, concern with email voting cannot be a valid basis for issuing a Prospect of Revocation of the School’s charter.

In addition to these substantial procedural errors, there was not a sound substantive basis on which to issue the Prospect of Revocation. Kona Pacific reserves the right to address the substantive issues at a properly noticed meeting at which all submittals from the school are provided to the Commission.

For all of the above reasons, the Commission’s vote to initiate the revocation process was founded on substantive and procedural and due process improprieties that must be immediately rectified. Indeed, swift action is the only way to remediate the damage to the school’s reputation caused by the issuance of the March 18 letter to staff and parents.

Due to time constraints, we respectfully request a prompt response to our request, as well as written confirmation that all Commission members have been provided a copy of this letter.

Rest assured that we have been working with the Attorney General’s office regarding these matters, and will continue to follow their advice moving forward.


The Governing Board of KPPCS


Greg Ushiroda, Department of the Attorney General, Education Division

Richard Thomason, Department of the Attorney General, Employment Law Division

Cultivating A Future

From West Hawaii Today: article by Cameron Miculka, photo by Laura Ruminski.

KEALAKEKUA — Standing behind a low heap of earth near the boundary of North and South Kona, Michael Kramer, Usha Kilpatrick Kotner and Gretchen Ana Currie Ramirez each pushed an ’o’o into the soil and pulled it back out, officially breaking ground on the new community kitchen near Kona Pacific Public Charter School.

“This is a major step forward for us to be able to really provide this type of service to our students,” said Kramer, president of the Friends of Kona Pacific Public Charter School.

The $1.9 million facility is funded by two legislative capital improvement project grants-in-aid as well as grants from private foundations and state agencies as well as an internal campaign, according to the Friends of Kona Pacific Public Charter School. The 2,800 square-foot building will include two kitchens along with walk-in refrigerators as well as office space, dry storage, restrooms and covered lanais.

One of the kitchens will support Kona Pacific Public Charter Schools’ WHOLE Foodservice, which in addition to providing meals for students at that school also provides meals for education and service providers Punana Leo o Kona, Parents and Children Together and Family Support Hawaii. During the summer, it also serves up to 300 meals a day in its lunch program and between 85 and 90 daily lunches for the county’s Summer Fun recreation program.

Another kitchen will be rented out to farmers and others in the community to give them an opportunity to create value-added products, both increasing the supply of local products and opening new avenues of entrepreneurship for local residents.

“We thought this was an innovative approach to have two side-by-side kitchens so that we could serve both constituencies at the same time,” Kramer said.

He added those who want to use the kitchen when it opens will be able to rent it by the hour and also said they interviewed a lot of farmers to determine what they needed to elevate their produce into something they could put on the market.

 Among those seeing opportunity in the new kitchen is Elizabeth Kilpatrick, owner of Konacopia Farms, an organic farm.

During a meeting for farmers to discuss ways they could make use of the kitchen, Kilpatrick said, she spoke about potentially drying mangoes.

“We’re just figuring so many value-added products now that our farm is mature,” she said.

The facility could also potentially help curb food waste, she said, saying it could give farmers, such as those who grow citrus, a way to process crops that can’t be sold for one reason or another.

Looking forward, Kramer said the broader vision is to cultivate at least 10 acres of the property for food production at the site of the campus, feeding not only the students but families and others in the community.

“We see a surplus, a bounty of food here that we could really support a lot of people,” he said, “as well as make it possible for people to create businesses with value-added products.”

And for some in the community, the kitchen is as much about the region’s past as it is about the future.

“When something like this happens, you look to the children, but you look to those that came before and how they would look on this,” said Friends of Kona Pacific Public Charter School board member Rafael Ramirez. “This was coffeeland; this was a pasture. It’s been many things; it’s had many uses.”

Building the facility, he said, rejuvenates the land, particularly by bringing youth back to the land — “cultivating our youth and teaching our youth how to cultivate,” he said.


Why Routines Matter

Children who have nourishing routines at home show better executive function than those with an unpredictable home life. Routines require impulse control and focus, so the very practice of executing routines strengthens our capacity for learning.

While predictable structure can help families gain quality time, researchers have also found that children who experience regular evening routines learn better in school.

Harvard graduate and book author of Prime Time Parenting, Heather Miller, says: “In the digital age, when the constant stream of devices so frequently interrupts the flow of home life and face-to-face interaction, routines at home are more important than ever — especially ones that involve turning off those devices entirely for limited amounts of time.”

– from Waldorf Today, the official website for the Association of Waldorf School of North America,

After-School Nature Enrichment Program

The Nature Enrichment Program (which was formerly called the After Care Program) is our signature, nature-based, after-school program at Kona Pacific. The program is focused on connecting children to nature through the use of ancient techniques, such as Coyote Mentoring, the 8 Shields Path, and primitive wilderness skills (i.e., shelter building, fire making, and ethnobotany) to activate the unique gifts of the individual children. Enrollment for the Nature Enrichment Program is on a first-come basis, with students going on a waitlist once full.

Cheyenne Atkins is the leader of the program, and she brings her prior experience at Kona Pacific and her lifetime of pursuing connection to nature to her role of overseeing the program. She is surrounded by a wealth of experience in her program team, all of whom bring their own specific specialties to the program and love connecting children to nature.

The typical rhythm of the Nature Enrichment Program’s day begins with sign in after school is released. Then the kids are led to the basecamp up in the woods to the beat of a drum. Once there, they repeat a chant where they bless the land and the elements and ask permission to enter the forest. Then the leaders “fox walk” the kids into the forest where they find a place to circle up, become “of one mind” and then proceed to individually give thanks for something in their life. The kids are then sent out to find a place in the forest where they spend some time doing their “Sit Spot,” where they spend time alone with nature (still supervised), which is one of the core routines of the program. After about ten minutes they are called back in and discuss what was experienced during their time with nature. The day then usually proceeds into snack time, some free time playing in the woods and sensory awareness building games. Toward the end of the day, the kids are brought down closer to pick up where they practice skills, do crafts, and talk story until they are picked up by their parents. The kids are usually dirty, tired and happy by the time their day is done.

This is a one-of-a-kind program in the Hawaiian Islands, and Kona Pacific Public Charter School is very excited to be able to offer this program to their students.

Fruit Tree Planting – Thursday 9-18

KPPCS has received an award from the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation (FTPF) for 10 citrus trees to be planted near the school garden. The foundation’s staff will be at our school on Thursday, September 18, to deliver the trees and assist us with planting. Please come help if you can! The tree planting event will be from 1:30–2:45 pm and will include the 7th grade students and school staff members.

FTPF is an award-winning international nonprofit dedicated to planting fruitful trees and plants to alleviate world hunger, combat climate change, strengthen communities, and improve the surrounding air, soil, and water. Their work takes place in school and community gardens across the United States, and in Kenya, India, Uganda and other international sites.

Please contact Jacqueline Cramer, our gardening teacher, for more information:

Food Truck Meal Service Comes to Kona Pacific!

Among the many changes coming to Kona Pacific this year is the new food service trailer that will roll onto campus this week.

This exciting new development follows the removal of the school’s previous food service tent, in preparation for the construction of the new $1.8 million community kitchen on the 38-acre property where the school is located, and a new school building on campus.

“The food truck concept came out of the necessity to create an alternative way to serve meals to our students,” says Kona Pacific’s nutrition program manager, Kelly Shehan. “But it also provides for some inspiring new opportunities.”

Kona Pacific middle school students will be very involved with the project, starting with naming the food trailer and helping to plan the art and design for its exterior.

Future prospects also include priceless learning opportunities for the middle schoolers to learn the academic and real-life relevant skills involved with growing harvesting, preparing and selling healthy, creative menus .

Kelly is putting together a team to spruce up the food trailer and ensure that it’s in full compliance with all regulations and ready to serve the children.

“Kona Pacific is already well known for its extraordinary commitment to community nutrition,” she says. “And with this new program asset, we have a great opportunity to expand that commitment into new areas.”

The school’s three temporary tent structures – the foodservice tent and two multiuse tents – have been removed prior to the launch of the construction activities, which are slated to begin before the end of August. The anticipated completion date of the new community kitchen, which will house both the school’s community foodservice and a new value-added kitchen for local farmers, is in February 2019.

Farm to School Success in Hawaii

USDA Blog, 11-13-17

– Posted by Anne Marie Buron, Emerson Hunger Fellow, Food and Nutrition Service and Julianna Arnett, Farm to School Regional Lead, Western Regional Office, Food and Nutrition Service

It takes the right amount of water and sunlight for seeds to grow into a thriving garden. So too, it takes the right mix of factors to integrate local foods into communities. Some of these factors include committed stakeholders, planning, collaboration, and financial resources.

Hawaii offers two successful examples of how federal funds can seed local agencies in the cultivation of their community food system goals. Kona Pacific Public Charter School & Friends of Kona Pacific Public Charter School (Kona Pacific) and The Kohala Center, Inc. (TKC) collaborate to advance their shared goals of improving student and community health, the regional agricultural economy, ecological understanding and a connection to native Hawaiian culture.

In 2011, Kona Pacific was awarded a $3 million direct loan through the USDA Rural Development Community Facilities Program. The project financed the purchase and expansion of a 38-acre parcel of land with an organic farm and a small elementary school campus. The space emphasizes Kona Pacific’s educational focus on agriculture. An on-site garden serves as a platform for multidisciplinary lessons and a place where students grow crops using traditional cultivation techniques.

TKC, a partner of Kona Pacific, is a community-based institute for research, conservation and education. In 2014, TKC was funded through an Agricultural Marketing Service Specialty Crop Block Grant to help schools and farmers maximize the use of the USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, available to high-need elementary schools as a source and market for local foods.

TKC further accelerated buying local foods through a 2015 USDA Farm to School Grant, a competitive grant administered by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service to entities across the country to advance farm to school initiatives, and a 2015 USDA Rural Cooperative Development Grant. TKC used the grants to develop reports on sourcing local food for child nutrition programs in Hawaii, build school and farmer connections, launch planning for the Hawaii Island Charter School Food Hui with Kona Pacific, create a garden-based curriculum, participate in the Hawaii Lieutenant Governor’s Farm to School Advisory Group and strengthen the capacity and impact of the Hawaii Farm to School Hui, a network of farm to school stakeholders on each Hawaiian island advancing local food systems.

In 2016, Kona Pacific worked with the Hui to increase charter school participation in federal nutrition assistance programs through the National Institute of Food and Agricultures’ Community Food Project. Kona Pacific was also awarded a USDA Farm to School Grant to assess their 10 farm to school initiatives and develop an integrated farm to school action plan, which included financial sustainability.

As demonstrated by Kona Pacific and TKC, local food initiatives grow and flourish over time. Communities can strategically use federal resources to foster local food systems, economic opportunities and self-sufficiency. Each of these USDA programs was leveraged at a different time and with a different purpose, however, each investment supported the long-term goal of developing a locally controlled food system that supports both Hawaiian producers and citizens.

The 2018 Farm to School Grant Request for Application (RFA) is open through December 8, 2017. Since the grant program’s inception in 2013, USDA has invested more than $25 million in farm to school grants among 365 projects reaching more than 13 million students across all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands. To learn more about this funding opportunity, visit