Priory Alumnae Plants (Sustainable) Seeds of Change
Elizabeth McDonnell

Priory alumna Stephanie Albaña, '20 was recently one of three innovative teens from local schools to present at this year's virtual Hawaiʻi Conservation Conference (HCC) on their Hawaiʻi Youth Sustainability Challenge (HYSC) solutions on Wednesday, September 2. Albaña, who is following in Queen Emma’s footsteps to educate and improve the lives of Hawai’i’s keiki, won an HYSC grant from the Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation in 2019. HYSC, a program of Kupu and Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation, is an initiative to empower Hawaiʻi youth to address conservation and sustainability challenges in their schools and communities. Students in public, private, and charter schools from grades 9-12 apply to receive funding, mentorship, and training to support innovative and grassroots environmental initiatives.

The Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation grants assistance to Hawai’i schools in paying for supplies and training for their classroom environmental education initiatives for up to $1,000 per school. The non-profit, started by local musician Jack Johnson and his wife, Kim Johnson, have a subset of the organization, ʻĀINA In Schools, which oversees grants like Albaña's with the mission to support environmental education in schools and communities of Hawaiʻi.

During the conference, Albaña inspired many other students and teachers to think about sustainability by discussing what she has done with the grant funds thus far. The annual HCC conference empowers Hawaiʻi youth to create solutions to conservation and sustainability challenges in schools and communities by connecting thought leaders like Albaña to the Hawai’i community.

Albaña, who is now a freshman at Cornell University studying Environment and Sustainability, presented her grant-funded HYSC project: the “Priory Permaculture School Garden,” during a livestream presentation on HCC’s Facebook page this past week.

Inspired to go after the Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation grant by a trip she took with St. Andrew’s Schools' Pacific & Asian Affairs Council (PAAC) to Bali in 2019, Albaña noticed that Bali was able to produce much of what they needed on the island, and do so sustainably, through permaculture. Permaculture, an innovative framework of living off an environment sustainably has been adopted by many cultures as a way of life around the world.

Albaña noted in her presentation that much of what Hawaiʻi uses or consumes is imported and not sustainable. She explained her project in an HCC website teaser:

“…Hawaii imports 90% of what we eat and keeps only one week’s supply of food in-state. This is incredibly unsustainable and makes Hawai‘i vulnerable to natural disasters and economic disruptions. Increasing Hawai‘i’s capacity to produce and sell local food will help reduce our vulnerability to these external pressures. In an effort to address this issue, I created a permaculture garden at The Priory to spread awareness of Hawaii's food shortage problem and to promote an appreciation for locally grown food and sustainability. This permaculture system will connect our school’s existing resources— rain barrels, worm bins, chicken coop, aquaponics, garden beds, and an upcoming vertical garden system— to produce plants.”

Albaña's garden permaculture prototype test had three primary objectives: (1) to grow and produce food for students; (2) to educate about climate change and sustainability; and (3) to bring the school together to work in the ‘āina and have fun. The project’s first phase was a great success. It involved the test garden planted with the younger students in the Lower School. Building upon this success, the project’s second phase was intended to broaden the initiative’s impact but the project was paused due to COVID-19 shutdowns.

Needless to say, Albaña left our school with some grant resources to continue her school garden and permaculture sustainability project into the foreseeable future. Albaña's legacy of sustainability will continue to educate and inspire other students through the grand funds she won before graduating.  

“We must save the world,” Albana concluded during her conference lecture, “one seed at a time!”


To watch the full presentation, click here.