Teaching Change | About Us

About us

Teaching Change

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.

Students learn to malama plants in a nursery
A group of students work a taro patch (lo'i) in Kohala

Grounded in A

Biocultural Approach

Teaching Change 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. Teaching Change 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.

preparing the future

Stewards of Hawaiʻi

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.

Students learn to malama plants in a nursery

Our Team

Blaire J. Langston

Program Manager

Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests

In 2012 Blaire received her Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from Richard Stockton University in New Jersey, where she focused on marine debris within the Raritan Watershed, seagrass in Barnegat Bay, and conducting surveys of endangered coastal plants. After graduation, her first professional conservation experience began with AmeriCorps as a New Jersey Watershed Ambassador. In this role Blaire focused on watershed science education and restoration within the Upper Delaware Watershed. She enthusiastically served for AmeriCorps a second time with the Utah Conservation Corps, removing invasive species by chainsaw in the backcountry to enhance watershed health in the Escalante Grand Staircase. Blaire worked for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection as an Environmental Specialist in the Bureau of Nonpoint Pollution Control before moving to Oʻahu to pursue a Master of Science in Natural Resource & Environmental Management from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Hopping over to the Island of Hawaiʻi after graduation, Blaire has been the Program Coordinator for Teaching Change since September 2018.

Rebekah Dickens Ohara

Chief Executive Officer

Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests

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.

Creighton Litton

co-Principal Investigator

The University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa

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 Giardina

co-Principal Investigator

US Forest Service

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.

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