Paul Balazs

Paul Balazs, a College of Education (COE) Department of Curriculum Studies (EDCS) master’s student, is making news with his Peace and Sustainability Garden at Kaiser High School. Enrolled in the college’s Sustainability and Resilience Education (SRE) program, Balazs was recently featured in a Civil Beat article.

“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.”Kaiser High School community garden

Since 2013, Balazs has worked at Kaiser High School where he taught English Language Arts for nine years while serving as a leadership advisor. After helping students establish the Wipeout Crew, a student-led club that focuses on environmental issues through service and activism, he started the Peace & Sustainability Garden in 2016. That same year, he was awarded the Milken Educator’s Teacher of Promise. Today, he is the school’s Student Activities Coordinator and continues to serve as the advisor and sole teacher of the Wipeout Crew.

Paul Balazs “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. The learning that takes place in the garden helps them learn more about themselves, their relationships, the outside world, and their place in all of it.”

Seizing an opportunity to lead the Wipeout Crew through purpose and place-based education, Balazs and the students spent several months 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.”

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.

“The 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. Halagao, Cashman, Chinn, and Taira continue to help me grow and develop a more authentic, well-rounded curriculum.”

Kaiser High School recently hosted Hiroshima Global Academy with whom they are setting up a partnership as sister schools adopting the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. The focus on sustainability and conservation of lands and resources is a theme of IB school curricula. Their visit included tours; a meeting with Principal Justin Mew (BEd and MEd in Secondary Education and MEd in Educational Administration); and a formal signing ceremony that included Superintendent Keith Hayashi (BEd in Elementary, MEd in Curriculum & Instruction, and MEd in Educational Administration), Complex Superintendent Donna Kagawa, and First Lady Dawn Amano-Ige.

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