Punahou Project Citizen: Saving Coral is Our Moral

May ’16 and Robi ’16

June 25, 2012

This past spring, students in eighth-grade social studies learned about civic responsibility through participating in Project Citizen, a national curricular program from the Center for Civic Education that promotes competent and responsible participation in local and state government. Below, a student team reflects on the project experience in an essay published by Civil Beat on June 18, 2012.

During our eighth-grade year, our social studies class took part in Project Citizen, an endeavor none of us were familiar with. Project Citizen involved picking a problem we thought was important, creating a public policy and taking action.

This was something new — not only did we have to research our problem we had to actually do something about it. This was an opportunity for us to impact our community for the better.

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We took a poll and decided on coral reef destruction, a problem all of us agreed urgently needs to be fixed. Next, our class was divided into four groups: the problem-definition group, alternative-policy group, class-policy group, and action-plan group. We all worked hard and brought our efforts together into one presentation, which we practiced for days. We gave this presentation to people with the authority and power to do something about it, such as members of the Hawai‘i State Senate and House. This way, we could actually influence members’ decisions.

There are many reasons why we chose this problem, including tourism, our marine ecosystem and medical research. Coral reefs help support a thriving snorkeling and scuba diving industry, a major industry that provides money for Hawai‘i's economy. Approximately 300 visitors go to Hanauma Bay each day, paying an entrance fee of $7.50 each, which adds up to $22,500 in annual revenue. Also, our marine ecosystem could be permanently damaged if our coral reefs are destroyed. Coral reefs provide a home to more than 25 percent of the ocean's species. Without reefs, many creatures wouldn’t have a place to live and thrive, and would become endangered.

Lastly, we need to protect Hawai‘i's coral reefs because coral is used in a variety of medical research. For example, by using the limestone structure of coral for bone grafts in humans, the coral acts as a scaffold on which healing takes place. It has been proven that using coral for grafts results in significantly lower rejection rates than using artificial materials. This shows how big a role coral reefs play in all of our lives.

Currently, the Hawai‘i state government has only a few public policies specifically against coral reef destruction. These laws do very little to regulate this issue because coral reef destruction is so hard to monitor. We must change that now. We ultimately decided to propose as our class policy that all inbound flights to Hawai‘i show an informative video illustrating the importance of coral reefs. Our class felt that by educating tourists, who are likely to visit local coral reefs, we could improve the health of our reefs. Adults and kids would learn about why coral reefs affect everyone and why we need them to be preserved.

The branch of government that deals with this problem is the legislative branch. Under Executive Order 13089, Hawai‘i's Department of Land and Natural Resources would carry out this policy. The department strives “...to enhance, protect, conserve and manage Hawai‘i's unique and limited natural, cultural, and historic resources held in public trust for current and future generations of visitors and the people of Hawaii nei in partnership with others from the public and private sectors.” This policy and our video would follow these guidelines and make our coral reefs better protected.

We put together a presentation on our research and proposal, and invited members of the State House and Senate to hear our ideas. Students also wrote a letters to their respective district senators and representatives to support a bill of their choice that would help preserve coral reefs.

There are many people and organizations that supported us in what we’re trying to do, including Eyes of the Reef, Waikiki Reef Watch and Reef Check Hawai‘i. The purpose of these groups is to raise awareness about the scale of the problem and encourage individuals and governmental agencies to do something about it. Also, many people like Dr. Robert Richmond, a professor at the University of Hawai‘i specializing in coral research, supported our policy and action plan. Dr. Richmond taught us a lot about coral reefs and led a field trip for our class to Maunalua Bay and the Waikiki Aquarium.

All in all, we accomplished and learned a lot through this project, not only about coral reefs and about the governmental process but about teamwork, participation and working together to reach a common goal. We all put a lot of time and effort into this project and it showed in our final presentation. Still, there is a lot more that could be done. We need more government involvement, the support of environmental groups and the help of all ocean users to really save our coral reefs.

Reflections

Project Citizen was a great experience. Not only did it teach me about the way our government works and how we can make a difference in the community, but also how to work as a team toward one common goal. I was a leader in my group, so I had to manage my team to make sure we all stayed on task and focused. This was a challenge at some times, but overall, we cooperated very well and created something that could make a difference in our local and national communities. —Kylie

Project Citizen was awesome. It taught me a lot about government and also taught me how to try handle and tackle problems. I also was able to work with other people, which was good because skills like this are needed in life. —Candace

It felt good to give back to the community. I liked being creative and collaborating with group members. It inspired me to go and volunteer in the community and to be more aware of the environment. —Mikayla

The class is an eighth-grade class of Leah Anderson, social studies teacher and coordinator for the local chapter of Project Citizen.

Project Citizen, a national curricular program from the Center for Civic Education is a curricular program for middle, secondary, and post-secondary students, youth organizations, and adult groups that promotes competent and responsible participation in local and state government. The program helps participants learn how to monitor and influence public policy. In the process, they develop support for democratic values and principles, tolerance, and feelings of political efficacy.

The Project Citizen program is administered with the assistance of a national network of state and congressional district coordinators in every state and is conducted with the assistance of the National Conference of State Legislatures. It is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and by act of Congress. Additional funding at the state level is also provided by an increasing number of state legislatures.

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