Kīhei Charter School seniors take on projects to better the community after the Maui wildfires

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Kihei Charter School graduating seniors. Sundi King, Taylor Guindon, Tara Zamani and Claire Eller each developed a Senior Graduate Defense Project to better the community after the Maui Wildfires.

Four students graduating from Kīhei Charter School have taken on different challenges posed by the Maui wildfires and other statewide issued in their Senior Graduation Defense presentations.

Seniors—Taylor Guindon, Tara Zamani, Sundi King and Claire Eller—presented respective projects on wildfire prevention policies, microbe research in the fire aftermath, stories of resilience from wildfire survivors, and an ʻŌhiʻa restoration project sparked by a visit to Hawaiʻi Island.

Taylor Guindon lives in Kīhei and was shocked by the wildfire destruction in Lahaina. She volunteered to help victims of the fire and asked how such an event could be avoided in the future. She wrote up plans for the Mayor and the County Council for fire prevention policies in Kīhei that involved trimming back overgrown grasses on both public and private land. The plans have begun to be implemented. Her goal is that future fires can be prevented, and that Hawaiʻi develops similar state-wide policies.

Tara Zamani is an aspiring biochemist and doctor. Her senior project is entitled, “Microbes as Indicators of Human Health Risk After the Lahaina Wildfire.” A student at the University of Hawaiʻi Maui College Research Lab since the second semester of her junior year in high school, Zamani was asked to head the UH Lahaina fire microbe research project. The goal was to find out if there had been increases in human harmful microbes after the wildfire.


Results demonstrated increases in bacteria levels, water turbidity, feces in coastal waters, and nutrients in the waters. The results have been presented at the John A. Burns School of Medicine. The project helps alert the community about to how to compensate for adverse effects from future wildfires.

Sundi King is a budding writer who writes in her free time. Her first book comes from her senior graduation defense project. The book, called “Stories of Resilience, Voices from Maui Wildfires,” was written to discuss the continuing fire impacts on the lives of ordinary people.

The result is a volume of actual stories told by the people who lived through the fire. The book contains numerous fire-related photos and a timeline of how the fire advanced.

The book is ultimately a story of hope. “I wanted to show that the resilience of people in natural disasters is very strong and there are people to help guide you through it,” King said. The book is not yet for sale pending copyright approvals.

Sundi King is the author of “Stories of Resilience, Voices from Maui Wildfires.” Her goal was to tell the story of what happened and to refute misinformation.

Claire Eller had a life changing experience on a visit to the Big Island. It was on that visit that she learned of the devastation being wrought on the ʻŌhiʻa lehua trees by the Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death Fungus. According to the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources, the ʻŌhiʻa lehua is the most common Hawaiian tree, comprising 80% of Hawaiʻi’s native forests. It is endemic to six of the largest islands in Hawaiʻi and throughout the centuries has enjoyed important cultural and medicinal purposes. The ʻŌhiʻa lehua grows slowly to between 66 and 82 feet tall.

Armed with new knowledge of the very real threat to the tree, Eller decided to start the “Charter School ʻŌhiʻa Restoration” project at Kīhei Charter School. She planted three ʻŌhiʻa lehua saplings near the entrance to the school and arranged for a teacher’s second grade class to water them each Tuesday and Thursday, even after Eller has graduated.

It was the way Eller created to care for the growing trees and to pass on the knowledge of their importance to a new generation of charter school students.

Each year a new class of second grade students will be introduced to the trees and their care until every student in the school has eventually passed through the ʻŌhiʻa Restoration Project and the entire school is involved. Eller hopes to come back to the campus in 20 years and see the fruits of her labor.

An ʻŌhiʻa Kehau tree sapling planted at Kīhei Charter School by Claire Eller reaches for the sun. Eller hopes to come back to the campus in 20 years and see the fruits of her labor, a fully grown ʻŌhiʻa leha tree.

Like the four examples above, each graduating student must then present their senior projects and other work samples to an audience of students, families, faculty and community members in what is called the “Senior Graduation Defense.”

Kīhei Charter Head of School Michael Stubbs said, “These final presentations showcase a student’s educational experience at Kīhei Charter School. They ultimately demonstrate how the knowledge, skills, and experiences acquired will enable them to lead successful and productive lives upon graduating.”

Senior Graduation Defense presentations also must include a post-secondary education plan, including a financial plan and budget to achieve any goals the student has outlined.

KCS has 700 students in grades K-5 (elementary school), 6-8 (middle school), and 9-12 (high school). Critical to the educational model of the Kīhei Charter School is the concept of experiential education. The school sees the entire community as a classroom and student learning is based on hands-on projects in a “classroom without walls” educational philosophy.

For more information about the Kīhei Charter School, go to kiheicharter.org.


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