Our programs aim to connect local students and teachers to the unique forest ecosystems in Hawaiʻi, as well as the threats these natural places face, and what is being done to manage these threats. We provide transformative experiences, career connected learning and professional development opportunities to students, their teachers and aspiring educators that are place-based, experiential and STEM-oriented.
Pilina ʻĀina utilizes a biocultural approach in our programs to encourage a valuable outlook for both the future professional and personal lives of the youth who participate. Practices and values that create a relationship with places such as kilo (observations) and oli (chants) help orient and connect Hawaii’s youth to the land and the culture of the Hawaiian Islands. Pilina ʻĀina and our partners teach the Hawaiian names of places, ʻōlelo noʻeau, native plants, and native animals to reveal important socio-ecological connections about the relationships between people and land.
We partner with cultural experts, who lead educational lessons and share moʻolelo about place, use ʻŌlelo Hawai‘i (Hawaiian Language) to explore native species and local ecosystems, and learn about the history behind the landscapes we visit. Importantly, we aim to instill in our students, “I ola ʻoe, i ola makou nei,” (if you thrive, I thrive) when it comes to caring for the earth.
Through career-connected learning, we educate students about existing tools and resources to leverage in order to secure a position in the conservation or natural resource management fields. Students participate in facilitated career-connection discussions with professionals at our field site locations including wildlife biologists, cultural practitioners, research scientists, farmers, and land managers.
Our programs include rigorous STEM learning and training in data collection, climate science, and ecosystem ecology. We link our educational activities to Next Generation Science Standards and our participants learn interdisciplinary impacts of climate change, including local, global and personal impacts, and the importance of ecosystem dynamics and biodiversity.
Born and raised in the ahupuaʻa of Pāpaʻikou on Hawaiʻi island, Leilā has a strong sense of kuleana (responsibility) to take care of those that came before, encompassing all forms of our ancestors as seen with a Hawaiian worldview: humans, plants, animals, rocks, environmental processes & more. Leilā has a deep passion for aloha ʻāina and was raised dancing hula. In 2013 Leilā received her B.S. in Environmental Science & B.A. in Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. As a student Leilā worked as the Outreach Associate for the ʻAlalā Project and provided support for the ʻImi Pono no ka ʻĀina Education Program where she first got to engage in ʻāina education. Leilā spent 2 years abroad in Paris, Costa Rica and Colombia teaching language. After returning home she served as the Outreach Coordinator for the Nāpuʻu Conservation Project encompassing the ahupuaʻa of Puʻuwaʻawaʻa and Puʻuanahulu where she helped to restore and teach about the dryland forest. She received her M.S. in Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science at UH-Hilo in 2020. She is humbled to have had the opportunity to work with a small community-based non-profit called Hui Mālama I ke Ala ʻŪlili as their ʻĀina Education Coordinator for nearly two years, where she got a sense of what it truly means to be a part of an organization & ʻohana grounded in aloha ʻāina and everything it means to be Hawaiʻi. Leilā is now the coordinator for the Teaching Change program and is excited about helping to instill aloha ʻāina values into the students and teachers she works with along with incorporating more Hawaiian language and Hawaiʻi life ways into the program.
Rebekah received her B.A. in Anthropology from Humboldt State University in 2009 and served as a Teacher’s Assistant and Field Guide for HSU’s Primate Field School at the Organization for Tropical Studies in Costa Rica. In 2013 Rebekah completed her M.A. in Social Science at HSU’s Environment and Community Program, focusing on the social and ecological considerations of tropical forest conservation with a case study in Ecuador. Through an internship at the Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve in Ecuador, she delved into agroforestry and permaculture. In 2013, as a member of Teach for America, Rebekah relocated to Pāhala, Hawai‘i and taught elementary school on Hawai‘i Island for two years.
She is now a Ph.D. Candidate at Purdue University in the Forestry and Natural Resources Program, focusing on the pathways and barriers to community-based forest management in Hawai‘i. Her path has led her to her current position at the Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests where she supports community-based partnerships and biocultural education.
ʻAleʻalani Evangelista was born and raised on Hawaiʻi island. A graduate of the University of Hiloʻs College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management (CAFNRM), she holds a B.S. in Agriculture, with a specialty in Coastal Resources and Watershed Management and a Forestry Resource Management certification. She recently rejoined the Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests (AFTF) ʻohana, as the ʻĀina Education and Stewardship Administrative Assistant, where she assists in the coordination and implementation of various ʻāina education programs, as well as provides administrative support to the organization. She worked previously with the U.S. Forest Service and AFTF team as a Kupu Conservation and Leadership Development member and as a member of their field research crew, working on the ʻŌhiʻa Disease Resistance project, and other climate change studies. She has two (2) young keiki who also find being outdoors to be their happy place. ʻAleʻa is passionate about sharing the wisdom and values rooted in aloha ‘āina, as tools to help people and communities connect to, grow deep roots, and ultimately thrive in the landscapes they call home. “I want my children to be in awe of this ʻāina. To always feel at home here in Hawaiʻi and to understand the kūleana that they carry, being that it is their home. Ultimately, to live and carry themselves in the values of aloha ʻāina”
Creighton is a Professor of Forest Ecology and Management and the Director of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. He holds a PhD in Botany from the University of Wyoming, an MS in Forest Resources from North Carolina State University, and a BA in Environmental Studies from Emory and Henry College. He conducted postdoctoral research in ecosystem science at both California State University Fullerton and Oregon State University. Dr Litton teaches undergraduate and graduate coursework and conducts research in ecology, conservation biology, and natural resource management in Hawaiʻi. Dr. Litton helped establish the Teaching Change program with Dr. Giardina in 2012. Dr. Litton provides expertise and direction on biocultural curriculum, as well as fiscal and administrative support to Teaching Change.
Christian is a research ecologist with the US Forest Service at the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry. He holds a PhD in Biological Sciences from the University of Denver, an MS in Forest Sciences from Colorado State University, an MA in Social Justice and Ethics Studies from Iliff School of Theology, and a BS in Zoology from Duke University. Over the course of his career, Dr Giardina has led research on climate change and restoration in tropical forests, with ongoing work in Asia, Latin America, Hawaiʻi and the US Affiliated Pacific Islands. Before joining the Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, he was a research ecologist at the Northern Research Station in Houghton. Dr. Giardina has been working with Teaching Change since its inception in 2012, providing guidance and expertise on biocultural curriculum development for youth. Christian provides direction and vision for Teaching Change, as well as program management support.