Categorized | Education, Featured

Konawaena senior promotes vision for sustainable education at Capitol

Trevor Tanaka testifies at the state Legislature. (Photo courtesy of Trevor Tanaka)

Trevor Tanaka testifies at the state Legislature. (Photo courtesy of Trevor Tanaka)

Hawaii 24/7 staff

These days most high school seniors are busy with finishing up their courses, deciding on colleges, searching for scholarships, playing sports, and having fun with friends they may not see for awhile.

For Konawaena High School senior Trevor Tanaka, he is doing all that, while also realizing a dream that will help others for years to come.

For the last year, Tanaka has been working on a Sustainable Education Resolution that would prepare future students to help build sustainable islands.

It all began when Tanaka was asked at the APEC Youth Summit in 2011 to consider “What Does Sustainability Mean To You?” It dawned on him that he’d never studied sustainability in school. Since he prided himself on being a good student, especially in science, he imagined that other public school students were missing out, too.

“We all know that sustainability and clean energy are essential to Hawaii due to our location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Our current dependence on imports threatens our resources and our way of life,” Tanaka said. “We also know that Hawaii is rich in renewable energy sources that have the potential to decrease our dependence on imports, especially imported oil. I really believe that our ability to educate ourselves about finding the right balance of growing our economy, keeping our land healthy, and preserving our natural resources and culture is essential to our survival. In fact, our state is in a unique position to become a leader in our nation and possibly the world.”

By the time Tanaka finished his presentation at the conference, the resolution garnered the support of 85 percent of the student delegation.

Last June, Tanaka was nominated by Nancy Redfeather to serve as a youth delegate to the eighth annual Youth Leadership Summit for Sustainable Development on Martha’s Vineyard.

At the summit, Tanaka made a presentation on his Sustainable Education Resolution. He also appeared on the national radio program “Keep it Moving” with Marsha Reeves-Jews.

Following the summit, Tanaka became a founding member of the Sustainable Hawaii Youth Leadership Initiative (SHYLI) year-long fellowship where he worked tirelessly to create strategies and troubleshoot challenges.

In January, Tanaka made an inspiring presentation at SHYLI’s youth leadership forum in Kona and invited leaders from business, government, education and civic community to brainstorm ways to support his Sustainable Education Resolution.

Tanaka’s workgroup included Nem Lau, CTE, West Hawaii District’s Department of Education, Katie Schwind, Rivertop Solutions, Kristine Kubat, Recyle Hawaii, Hannah Brittany, Maui Huliau Foundation and Ian Kitajima, Oceanit.

Tanaka also found a champion for his resolution in Rep. Denny Coffman, who helped guide Tanaka through an intensive learning experience in how to work with the legislative process.

Then everything started happening. Once the House gave the resolution an official number, HCR178, the Senate followed (SCR192).

While other students were enjoying their school vacation, Tanaka gathered testimonials from youth, friends and friends of SHYLI including educators, school garden organizers, community and business leaders – from Hawaii and as far way as the prestigious Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education.

“I first met Trevor Tanaka at the Sustainable Hawaii Youth Leadership Initiative’s Forum in Waimea,” said Ian Kitajima, vice president of Oceanit. “As a member of his workgroup, I was impressed with his vision – a resolution to incorporate sustainability education into the science curriculum – and harness the hands-on excitement of aquaponics, wind and solar energy projects, school gardens, and even robotics to engage and inspire our young people.

Kitajima said he encouraged Tanaka to connect his vision back to the culture and traditions of Hawaii.

“Trevor doesn’t want sustainability to be just an extracurricular after school program. He wants to engage, inspire, and educate students in innovative programs — fully incorporated into the education curriculum,” Kitajima said. T”he answer for how we can create sustainable islands is right in front of us. I fully support Trevor’s vision that sustainability is in our local DNA, it’s what engages and inspires the next generation, and will help students connect with their education.”

Then Monday, March 25, Tanaka traveled with his mentor Redfeather and Coffman to Hawaii’s Capitol. Hearings on the resolution scheduled in the House and the Senate on the very same day.

Coffman’s staff welcomed them with leis and words of encouragement. Tanaka stayed poised, calm and prepared – accompanied by a 3-inch notebook with all of his research.

While he was aware of the DOE’s policy on sustainability from the 1980’s, he knew it referred to only to buildings. So when questions were asked, Tanaka was ready to respond.

“It doesn’t address the educational curriculum,” he said.

Tanaka said was pleased when Chairwoman Jill Tokuda’s suggested his resolution be added to the current policy.

“Rep. Coffman and the committees we spoke with all embraced Trevor and his ideas and ideals for a more sustainable world,” Redfeather said. “It was very heartening and may the intent of this resolution be translated into action to create sustainability curriculum in Hawaii’s public schools K-12.”

Coffman said he was impressed by Tanaka’s perseverance and drive.

“Trevor serves as a great example to both his classmates and to our fellow citizens of Hawaii as to the power and importance of one’s voice,” he said. “When I meet someone like Trevor I know that the future of Hawaii is in good hands. Trevor discovered a gap in his school curriculum and decided to take the initiative and do something about it. We could all learn a thing or two from this exceptional young man.”

Coffman jumped on board and introduced the measure on behalf of Tanaka.

“I wholeheartedly agree that there is a need for sustainability curriculum in our classrooms, and will continue to support Trevor’s resolution as it moves through the legislative process,” he said. “It has been a pleasure getting to know Trevor, and if the passion and work ethic I’ve seen thus far are any testament, I am sure his future will shine bright.”

Three days after personally delivering his testimony, Tanaka learned the House Education Committee had passed HCR178. Meanwhile, the Senate companion resolution met with success at a joint hearing Education Committee and Committee on Water and Land and SCR192 passed.

On Tuesday, April 2, it was adopted by the full House of Representatives.

The Senate Committee on Ways and Means now will schedule the resolution for a hearing.

Tanaka said there is still time to submit testimony at:

To see the status of the bill, visit:

Sustainable Hawaii Youth Leadership Initiative’s mission is to train young people from Hawaii to envision their dreams for their lives, and build a more sustainable island and world. SHYLI began on the Island of Hawaii in 2010. SHYLI is a project of the Stone Soup Leadership Institute, a 501c3 non-profit organization founded in 1997.

— Find out more:

Nancy Redfeather, Rep. Denny Coffman and Trevor Tanaka. (Photo courtesy of Trevor Tanaka)

Nancy Redfeather, Rep. Denny Coffman and Trevor Tanaka. (Photo courtesy of Trevor Tanaka)

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