teacher and student at a garden
Paul Balazs and his students at Kaiser High Schoolʻs Peace and Sustainability Garden.

Paul Balazs, a College of Education (COE) master’s student, is making a big impact with his Peace and Sustainability Garden at Kaiser High School. Enrolled in the Department of Curriculum Studies’ (EDCS) Sustainability and Resilience Education program, Balazs said that “the learning that takes place in the garden helps students learn more about themselves, their relationships, the outside world, and their place in all of it.”

“Sustainability and Resilience Education has shown that the garden has a profound impact on students who find it a place to follow interests, participate in meaningful service learning, meet new friends,” EDCS Professor Pauline Chinn explained. “The garden projects our graduate students are involved in have multiple benefits ranging from ecosystem services, health and well-being, to academic content learning and cultural identity.”

Balazs holding container in front of banana trees

Balazs has worked at Kaiser High School since 2013, where he taught English language arts while serving as a leadership advisor. He helped the students establish the Wipeout Crew, a student-led club that focuses on environmental issues through service and activism.

Seizing an opportunity to lead the Wipeout Crew through purpose and place-based education, Balazs and the students spent several months in 2016 clearing an overgrown plot of land that would become the Peace and Sustainability Garden.

“The garden has just begun to find its way into curricula, and I am so grateful our school is supportive of alternative ways to learn,” Balazs added. “The garden definitely offers that, but more importantly, we’ve been making strides toward ensuring our teaching and school culture supports the social and emotional well-being of our young people.”

Also in 2016, he was awarded the Milken Educator’s Teacher of Promise. Today, Balazs is the school’s student activities coordinator and continues to serve as the advisor and sole teacher of the Wipeout Crew.

“The students who participate in the garden find peace there,” Balazs said. “Garden caretakers love the space and reflect on the garden as a place they feel free to be themselves, where they aren’t judged or feel pressure from others.”

Balazs devotes his time well beyond school hours, mowing, watering plants and organizing club events. His programs and leadership have such an impact that 135 students signed up for the Wipeout Crew this year. Together, he and his students have grown 78 different species of plants, the majority of them Native Hawaiian, as well as vegetables, herbs and fruit.

COE has been an incredibly invaluable support system since my early years,” Balazs concluded. “When I first decided to become a public school teacher, I found the love and kindness of the COE teachers refreshing and uplifting. I could not have had a better introduction to education. The support and compassion of Drs. [Patricia] Halagao, [Kimo] Cashman, Chinn and [Brooke] Taira continue to help me grow and develop a more authentic, well-rounded curriculum.”

For more go to the COE website.

aerial photo of the Peace and Sustainability Garden