By Michael Niehoff
Education Content Coordinator at iLEAD Schools
Now in its third year, Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi Charter School — which translates to iLEAD Kauai — is still experiencing lots of new. The school, located at the beautiful Kahili Mountain Park and serving kindergarten through 6th grade, has a new director, new learners, new projects and renewed enthusiasm.
About his role at Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi Charter School, Director DJ Adams said, “It is refreshing to join a team of people with a shared vision of a high-quality, free public education infused with project-based learning. Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi Charter School has tremendous potential for continued positive growth, so it is exciting to be part of our journey ahead.”
Adams is impressed with so many things about Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi, whose staff have worked hard to safely accommodate face-to-face learning during the pandemic this school year. He said that Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi team members and families are grateful to live and work on a beautiful island that is almost COVID-free. But above all, Adams is inspired by the enthusiasm, engagement and attitudes of the learners.
“Our learners have been fantastic,” Adams said. “They have embraced the challenges and uniqueness to be on campus, and we are extremely proud of their efforts to keep everyone safe here at school and on our island.”
Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi kindergarten facilitator Casey Zoppa said that, within a few weeks of Adams’ arrival as director, he’d learned the names of all the facilitators and learners and made his positive presence known.
“Talk about dedication to that job,” Zoppa said. “The man is always in sneakers because he is always on the run! And I love it!”
Also new to Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi are outdoor classrooms, which have added to the instructional environment and culture of the school.
Adams said that the outdoor classrooms create great opportunities, including safe social distancing, physical education and lots of play-based learning.
“The outdoor classrooms here in beautiful Kahili Valley are somewhat surreal, as the learners are surrounded by green, lush plants framed by the mountains,” Adams said.
The outdoor classrooms have also enhanced the school’s creative projects and learner inquiry. For example, Zoppa and the kindergarten learners are currently focusing on sound design and the driving question “How do we make sound?”
“We’ll be making instruments, learning about Hawaiian culture and seeing how native Hawaiians made instruments,” Zoppa said. “Music connects us around the globe, and this is a perfect time for connecting.”
In addition to project-based learning, the idea of intentional and learner-led play has become a foundational instructional element of Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi.
Zoppa said that his kindergartners are learning school is not about sitting at desks but rather about being active and engaged in their environment.
“We have tremendous freedom here as facilitators, and we try to model that freedom for our learners,” Zoppa said. “We allow them to take chances, make mistakes and ultimately get messy. Authentic and deeper learning are messy.”
Adams said, “It’s so exciting to be part of new opportunities for our learners as they continue to be challenged in new ways by their amazing facilitators.”
Having achieved so much in only three years, Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi is just getting started. The team and families are making plans to continue to engage the learners and the entire community.
According to Zoppa, Alakaʻi O Kauaʻi is a special place with a strong foundation and exciting potential.
“We have come so far in just three years. I can’t imagine all the amazing things ahead for our learners, facilitators and community.”