Hilo, Saturday, December 3, 2011 – Taking learning outside the classroom helped dozens of Kealakehe High School students understand the plight of the homeless on the Big Island.

Students, ranging from freshmen to juniors, spent a few hours Friday at the West Hawaii Emergency Shelter and HOPE Services’ Friendly Place in the Kailua-Kona Old Industrial Area learning about the realities of being homeless on the Big Island and the importance of the community helping address the issue. The students also lent a helping hand to the shelter’s residents and staff.

“It’s more to give than to get,” said freshman Nick Sonson, a teen of few words who spent the morning helping remove weeds at the facilities. “It just feels good to help.”
Sonson was among 52 students who toured the emergency shelter, pulled weeds, set up Christmas trees and decorated ornaments and cards for the center’s residents. Shelter staff, who were told not to speak with media, spent time not just telling, but showing, the students about homelessness.

The majority of the students were part of a language arts/class public human service class, said Jessica Dahlke, the dual course’s teacher. The students spent a good chunk of the current semester focusing on social problems in Kona including homelessness, she said. Learning to cook a healthy meal at low cost is also a part of the class, which collaborates with the school’s culinary arts program.

Friday’s event, the second such held, is designed to be a “culminating” experience to bring together all that the students have researched and learned about in the classroom, Dahlke explained.

“These students will be able to show compassion because it’s one thing to try to learn about homelessness in the classroom, but when it is presented to them in real life, it ingrains in them a sense of contributing to the community,” Dahlke said. “This is deeper learning.”

Before winding down, a handful of the students served up bowls of hapa rice — a mixture of brown and white rice — topped with student-made chili, chock full of healthy items including eggplant and tofu, said Karen Sheff, a public human service and culinary arts teacher.

Jossy Olinares, a 15-year-old junior, was one of those students who helped prepare the food and took part in the event at the facility. While not part of the public human service class, Olinares said the event made her realize the importance of having aloha for those less fortunate in our community.

“This is reality,” she said while helping Sheff complete the chili. “There’s more to it than just what you can learn inside a classroom. Life is a bunch of lessons that you can’t learn in a classroom. You have to get out there and see it to have it really touch your heart.”
For Kona resident Lou, who uses the facility and asked to be identified only by her first name, seeing the high school kids come out and help, even for just a few hours, is excellent.

“It’s great that these kids get exposed to all the different walks of life … homeless people are not hidden, and they are joyful and try to be giving to society,” she said while waiting for a hot bowl of chili. “I hope this program continues because it’s really nice to see these kids.”

Email Chelsea Jensen at cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com.

Jensen,Chelsea . “A lesson in compassion” Hawaii Tribune Herald, 03 Dec. 2011.http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/sections/news/local-news/lesson-compassion.html