Innovation Through Partnerships

The What

Partnerships allow schools to innovatively leverage community resources aligned to their design to provide equity and excellence for students in pre-k through grade 12.  School partners in Hawai‘i include community organizations, businesses, post-secondary institutions, parents, and not-for-profits. These organizations team with Hawai‘i schools to support school design in strategic ways.  

Partnership work is grounded in the understanding that schools are an important part of a community and function interdependently within a broader context.  Partners have the potential to not only bring resources to schools but also different perspectives that can lead to fresh new ways of looking at and/or solving problems and approaching teaching and learning.  

School-community partnerships can provide: 

School-community partnerships take place at a variety of scales, from multi-school to school-wide to individual classrooms. 

Local community resources may influence school design decisions.  

In some cases, natural partnerships may arise due to the proximity of location.  The partnership between Pomaika‘i Elementary in Kahului and the Maui Arts and Cultural Center has created a nationally-recognized arts-integration program.  Research into the effectiveness of the arts integration approach has examined non-cognitive factors that support students successful transition to middle school (Simpson-Steele, 2016). 

Schools may seek out partnerships to align with their school design philosophy.  

Schools may have a strong vision for school design and seek out partners that align to a common mission.  One goal of Kapa‘a High’s academy model is for students to experience mentorships/internships to gain the necessary skills to succeed in post-secondary pathways.  In partnership with the Kaua‘i Planning and Action Alliance and the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce, the school is able to connect students with workplaces.

Collaboratives may provide a structure for schools to access their school design goals.

A coalition of programs and partners in the Ala Wai Watershed has provided local students and teachers with options to connect to their community through science, art, and service learning.  Kaimuki High, Ali‘iolani Elementary, and Jarret Middle have participated in stream clean-up, invasive species removal, and native plant restoration, while Palolo Elementary has created a community-supported mural. 

Partnerships may be driven by student interest and inquiry.  

Schools may seek out partners in order to follow student-driven inquiry and/or interest.  Students may generate questions that lead to community partnerships. For example, middle school students at Olomana School were interested in rescue dogs and how they become trained as service dogs.  This led to Olomana School’s intermediate teachers partnering with Hawaiʻi Dog Foundation and Hawaiʻi Dog Rescue Services as part of a student-driven project to help train and certify rescue dogs.  (See Hawaii News Now story.)

Partnerships may be driven by specific student needs. 

Partnerships may arise out of a need to serve specific student populations or address unfulfilled needs.  For examples, schools work with Community Homeless Concerns Liaisons (CHCL) to look at needs across the population of students in unstable housing.  CHCL work directly with community agencies and local business to secure services, facilities and supplies that target needs and enable full participation and success in school.

The Why

Learning partnerships that connect out-of-school programs with schools have demonstrated positive results, including improved social and academic outcomes for students, access to a broader range of opportunities and resources for students and schools, and increased engagement (Harvard Family Research Project, 2010).  

School partners bring expertise and resources that can enrich and complement a school’s existing assets.  For example, whole-child supports can be provided by partnering with organizations that focus on student health, safety, and social-emotional well-being.

Partnerships can foster equity and excellence by providing schools and students with access to expanded curricular and co-curricular options, promoting student choice.  School partners can contribute technical expertise and a venue to apply college- and career-readiness skills that can motivate students and engage teachers.  

Importantly, partners can bring cultural knowledge and place-based mana‘o (ideas) and na‘auao (wisdom) that reflect a strengthened sense of Hawai‘i.  Partnerships inspire and support their local schools and can ground teaching and learning in local and cultural relevance.

In addition to the benefits to schools, community organizations also benefit from such partnerships.  Out-of-school co-curricular programs specifically can gain access to populations for targeted support, improve program quality, and make more efficient use of resources (Harvard Family Research Project, 2010). 

A ho‘owaiwai ceremony to open the day's work at a HĀ Community Day at Camp Palehua, 2017.
A ho‘owaiwai ceremony to open the day's work at a HĀ Community Day at Camp Palehua, 2017.

The How

Each community in Hawai‘i brings with it a unique history as well as its own assets and needs, which may drive school partnership decisions.   Schools may look toward community partnerships as a support or a key component in meeting content-area standards in a well-rounded curriculum and in providing critical supports for the whole-child. There are a number of tools and resources for schools to turn to in order to explore partners that would enhance and bring synergy to their school design.  

Key questions: 

Key resources: 

Includes guides for Community Days and Designers Convenings to engage community partners to build HĀ.

A compilation of resources for understanding, exploring, and building community partnerships.

Specifically related to homeless parents and children, written for nonprofits. 

As schools move toward increasing partnerships to facilitate applied learning and to strengthen local community ties, it is important to be mindful of the distribution of resources.  Facilitation and coordination among schools and/or partners in a particular community may help ensure equitable access. A recent report on work-based learning in Hawai‘i identified “intermediaries that help connect schools to workplaces” as one key to the success of such partnerships for the role they play in ensuring learning experiences are aligned and avoiding competition between schools.

Hawai‘i Examples

Niu Valley Middle School - Artists in the Schools

At Niu Valley Middle School music teacher Zachary Morita leverages the support of his community as he provides his students with experiences that transcend beyond his East Honolulu Classroom.  One of the ways Mr. Morita uses his community assets to teach students about the world of music is through an Artists in the Schools grant that brings in the Taiko Center of Pacific twice a week for six weeks to teach the students the art of Taiko Drumming.  Students are taught about the history and cultural significance of Taiko drumming while also learning drumming techniques from professional musicians. Students are tasked with coming up with an original Taiko composition using an adjective that begins with the same letter as their names and an eight-beat rhythm.  The semester culminates with the students performing for their teachers and peers in an assembly. Mr. Morita also invites in guest conductors in order to provide his students with different perspectives.

School Gardens

Hawaii has flourishing school garden programs that connect students to the foods they eat and provides hands-on learning opportunities.  According to the Hawaiʻi Department of Health’s 2017 School Safety and Wellness Survey, eighty-eight percent of K–12 public schools have some form of a school garden.  These spaces are used for active learning in science, health, and Hawaiian studies. School gardens help strengthen students’ sense of Hawaii as well as their sense of belonging and connection to the ‘aina (land).  Hawai‘i has a number of locally-based nonprofits that have resources to help schools with their gardens (see Hawai‘i School Garden Curriculum Map).  The Hawaiʻi School Garden Curriculum was created by teachers for teachers who may not be gardeners themselves, but intuitively understand the benefits of inquiry-based, place-based, project-based learning for their students. 

Hawaii Pacific Health

An exciting example of innovation through partnerships is the work that Hawaiʻi Pacific Health (HPH) is doing with its medical assistant training programs.  Hawaiʻi Pacific Health and Kapiolani Community College are partnering with five Oʻahu high schools (Aiea High School, Campbell High School, Kapolei High School, Pearl City High School, and Waipahu High School) to prepare juniors and seniors for careers as medical assistants, which is an area of great need in Hawaii, in the HPH Medical Assistant Program.


HIKI NŌ is the first and only weekly student news show with a statewide network of schools. Under their teachers' guidance, students from 90 public, private and charter schools from across the islands share stories from their communities to Hawaiʻi and the world.     

Career Pathways with Community Business Advisory Organizations

Hawai‘i’s public high schools are organized to provide pathways to college, work and careers.  Many of the high school academies have community business advisory boards that help guide the programs.  For example, Farrington High has five academies: creative arts and technology, business and natural resources, culinary and teaching, health, and engineering.  Early college and advanced placement opportunities are embedded in the academies. FCH enterprise, the parent company of Zippy’s, has students complete paid internships. Students learn skills related to getting a paycheck, punctuality working with managers and colleagues.   

Arts Integration

Hawai‘i has a rich arts community that offers a variety of school partnership opportunities.  The Honolulu Museum of Arts has partnered with HIDOE over the past several years to produce place-based arts posters that provide suggestions for integrating the arts across multiple subject areas.  

Hawai‘i Public Library System

The Department partners with Hawaii Public Libraries to combat the problem of summer slide, whereby students lose valuable learning over the summer. The Homeless Concerns office has a partnership with the Hawaii Public Libraries as a bridge for students and families to do homework, access internet and online learning programs.  Liaisons can meet parents at libraries and connect them to housing, employment resources, etc.

Mānoa Heritage Center

The Mānoa Heritage Center (MHC) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1996 by preservationists Sam and Mary Cooke. It is a 3.5-acre living classroom that promotes the understanding of Hawaii’s natural and cultural heritage. MHC partnered with the Hawaii State Department of Education and Dr. Amber Strong Makaiau, Associate Specialist at the UH College of Education and Director of Curriculum and Research at the UH Uehiro Academy for Philosophy and Ethics in Education, to offer a series of professional development courses for public school teachers.. The professional development gave teachers the unique opportunity to develop culturally responsive inquiry units using the IDM and incorporating MHC’s resources where applicable.

Wai‘anae Intermediate: Place-based, Indigenous Science Learning

Teachers in the science department have partnered with a number of community organizations to implement standards-aligned, place-based science learning experiences.  In one project, students examined the plant and animal life of Kaʻena point through field experiences and through the cultural-historical lens of moʻolelo (stories) related to the place.  This work was supported through partnerships with the State of Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), KUPU, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  In a related service learning project, the school partnered with five organizations, including DLNR, NOAA, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Oʻahu Army Natural Reserve Program, and the University of Hawai‘i-Mānoa, to adopt a parcel of land at Ka‘ena Point State Park.  Students cleared invasive plant species, planted native plants, and continue to monitor the health of the site. Through this process, they deepened their understanding of ecosystems and organisms as well as human impacts on the environment. Through these efforts, students have increased their state science assessment scores and sense of place.

Waikīkī School

Waikiki School partners with community organizations in their neighborhood on student-driven projects designed to address the needs of the organization while giving students opportunities to contribute their talents meaningfully in the community. The gifted and talented class, with support from their teachers, the administrative staff, and the school community, created permanent signs at the foot of Diamond Head State Park that include QR codes linked to presentations that inform visitors about the native flora and fauna. Other signs query visitors with interesting math brain teasers to ponder such as: If you filled Diamond Head Crater with diamonds how much would that cost? In an effort to inform Honolulu Zoo visitors about endangered animals, students created an interactive mosaic mural that teaches about the various organizations working to protect endangered animals.  The school is partnering with the Waikiki Aquarium to create a brochure for mass distribution that teaches people about the Marine Life Conservation District that is in front of the museum. 

ReferencesSimpson Steele, J. (2016). Noncognitive Factors in an Elementary School-Wide Model of Arts Integration. Journal for Learning through the Arts, 12(1), n1.