Creating Christmas joy on Kauai
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Jocelyn Fujii
            Recycling has gone from a choice to a necessity, but in the maze of recycled plastic products—boardwalks, benches, speed bumps, picnic tables, handbags, and construction materials—have you ever seen an item that you would call dazzling? Recently on Kaua'i, I stumbled across some Christmas ornaments of recycled plastic that you would never dream were once a heap of discards. They were shimmering, bright, cheery, incandescent, and multidimensional shapes unforgettable in their ingenuity. Made of the tops, middles, and bottoms of used plastic water bottles, they elicited smiles and wide-eyed wonder wherever they were unveiled.
            Some two dozen juniors and seniors at Kaua'i High School’s Academy of Hospitality and Tourism (AHT) are having a heyday with scissors, glitter and a wallop of imagination on this project. Shaped like chrysanthemums, jellyfish, sea anemones, stars, butterflies, windmills, snowmen, flags, coconut trees, and a plethora of abstract and natural forms, the ornaments are not just ecological. They’re also eye candy, beautifully crafted to reflect light in multiple dimensions and add a special creative touch to the holidays—an artistic and environmental statement.
            “We call them H2O ornaments, and we’re using them to decorate the Christmas tree for the Sheraton Kaua'i Resort in Poipu and for the Festival of Lights,” Kathy Morishige, the Academy’s director, explained. “It started with Elizabeth Freeman [coordinator of Kaua'i’s annual Festival of Lights] last year. She came up the idea of H2O flakes, and the students took it a step further by creating ornaments of different shapes, dimensions and color, using recycled plastic water bottles.”
            This year the ornaments have taken on a life of their own, anchoring a school project with multiple applications. In addition to creating the ornaments and decorating the trees in two prominent Kaua'i locations, the students are writing and producing step-by-step brochures on how to make these astonishing creations.
            “In this creative learning experience, we’re also teaching them the real-life skills of technical writing,” says Morishige, pointing out that “making the items and writing about them are two different procedures.” In the AHT’s teen concierge program, the students make a commitment to spend time at a local hotel and teach the guests something original. While they are decorating the trees, they’re also creating the teaching materials with which they can share the process with others.
             “This is real-world stuff, and they’re getting class credit,” says Morishige. “They had an idea, extended it, and now they’re sharing it with the rest of the community. This will help them in interacting with people, sharing their knowledge, and building confidence as they go out into the world.”
            Charlene Navarro, who teaches the class, notes that the students’ interest in business calls for working with local partners in the hospitality industry. This is, after all, the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism, a discipline that cuts across many sectors of the Hawai'i community. So, while the project stimulates creativity and digital dexterity, it also hones communication and other skills.
            “I don’t know how they create these things,” she marvels. “Now they’ll have these two trees that they’ve decorated in different parts of the island. At the Festival of Lights, the students will also be docents. They’ll explain to others how they made the ornaments and pass out materials that they wrote and produced.”
            The project could serve as a powerful template for other campuses, and it’s not as if it leaves a big carbon footprint. Recycling plastic, creating beauty and joy, and sharing the technique with others—it sounds like a winner to me. Next year, if the students make enough ornaments to sell some as a fundraiser, they will no doubt be overrun with bidders.
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