Kupu Ola2020-03-03T16:03:06-10:00



Culture-Based Education

Kupu Ola, which means “to bring forth or sprout life,” is a culture-based education (CBE) and outdoor classroom program that brings project-based cultural programming into schools. Our outdoor classrooms focus on helping keiki feel more connected to the land and their community through ʻāina-based learning activities.

Kupu Ola works with at-risk youth, families, educators, and the community to nurture identity through hands-on learning, Hawaiian language, and cultural practices to nurture their connection to land and community through ʻāina-based learning activities. Our students learn about native plants, science and biology, genealogy, and the environment through hands-on project-based activities and Hawaiian cultural practices like storytelling in order to weave culture and academics together for a more interactive learning experience. Through these activities, students experience success and grow their sense of self, leadership skills, and ability to engage in positive decision-making, reducing risky behaviors and increasing their active engagement in school. At the same time, Kupu Ola creates an on-campus resource for training and mentorship for interested teachers who see the benefits and want to build CBE into their curriculum. Kupu Ola programming is currently provided in schools on the Wai’anae Coast.

Kupu Ola in 2019


seventh and eight-graders participated in culture-based educational workshops (72% were Native Hawaiian)


of the seventh and eighth-graders demonstrated cultural competency through oral presentations and or demonstrations


of the seventh and eighth-graders who participated showed improvement in at least one risk / protective factor

Interest and participation in Kupu Ola expanded from an average of 50 students per year for each of the prior three years, to 337 students in 2017 from various science, social studies and special education classrooms. 226 (or 68%) of the 337 participants demonstrated, through oral presentations to their teachers, peers, families, and community, their knowledge about genealogy and sense of place. This included stories, songs, chants, and proverbs.

148 families, including keiki, increased their knowledge of diverse Hawaiian traditions and practices, built their research skills, and Via a series of intergenerational community learning exchange ʻohana workshops, taught by Hawaiian cultural practitioners, 148 families, including keiki, increased their knowledge of diverse Hawaiian traditions and practices, research skills, and knowledge of how to access existing resources which they used to give oral presentations.

In 2018 – 2019, Kupu Ola plans expanded programming to include a Hawaiian-focused STEAM program during the summer session at Wai ‘anae Intermediate and will continue to incorporate and strengthen this programming throughout the school year.

Kupu Ola in Practice

Inspiring Future Leaders

Since the program’s inception in 2014 at Wai‘anae Intermediate School, students have consistently exceeded expectations every year, demonstrating their ability to engage, learn, and lead instructional activities for their peers and family members. Our students, many of whom have had difficulties in traditional classroom environments, have grown and thrived in Kupu Ola’s outdoor classroom, where they have developed a deeper appreciation for knowledge (ʻike), storytelling (mo‘olelo), genealogy (moʻokūʻauhau), native Hawaiian plants, and responsibility (kuleana). Students are not just learners in Kupu Ola. Empowered with this knowledge they are encouraged to take active roles in caring for the land and share their knowledge with others.

“Our goal is to listen to our teachers and be better students. We try and grow waula and try to make the garden nice. We try and help our school through this and our community. I like that because it reminds me of working with my father. My father used to do planting stuff like this”

— Isaiah Cabral, Kupu Ola Participant

Why Is Culture-Based Learning Important?

Cultural-based instruction has the potential for narrowing educational achievement gaps because it allows keiki to build relationships and engage in learning tied to a deeper sense of community. Because of that, Kupu Ola is not only an educational empowerment program, but a community development program as well. The Kupu Ola program strives to:

  • show keiki that their actions matter.
  • tap into the community’s wealth of knowledge.
  • provide a place for children to develop.

Kupu Ola works to build and reinforce Native Hawaiian culture, language, and traditions while reestablishing land connections through outdoor instruction. This approach allows kinesthetic learners to thrive and can be used to teach math, science, literacy, art, and social and emotional skills.

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Your Donation Impacts the Community

Since its start at Wai‘anae Intermediate School in 2014, more than 485 students have participated in Kupu Ola programs, reconnecting with their peers, family and communities. Generous donations from community members and businesses help make our programs sustainable. For example, a donation of fish allowed one of our Kupu Ola groups to re-build aquaponics systems, a unique, hands-on learning tool for biology, science, and ecosystems. We welcome donations of gardening supplies and materials. Donations small and large enable us to acquire and provide the materials and tools needed to expand our garden and develop project-based learning opportunities.


Our Program Supporters

Kamehameha Schools is currently funding this program