East Hawaii News

Pahoa Students Affected by Lava Flow Go on Unique Excursion

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Hundreds of public school students got the rare opportunity Monday to get an close-up view of the June 27 lava flow from the former Pahoa Transfer Station.

Over 300 students arrived Mnoday and are the first of more than 1,000 students who will visit the area throughout the week.

Students got the opportunity to experience the lava through a field trip to the site, allowing then a “hands-on” science lesson.

The Pahoa Elementary students met with geologists, touched hardened lava, and were allowed the opportunity to share their thoughts and feels on relocating to a new school.

Hawai’i County Civil Defense, along with other county officials and geologists, invited the students to the area as part of a pilot program. The students were among the first members of the public to gain access to the area and were able to view parts of Apa’a Street and the Pahoa Transfer Station.

More than 600 additional public school students from the area affected by the lava flow, including the rest of the Pahoa students and those from Keonepoko Elementary, are scheduled to visit the area through the course of the week


On Oct. 28, Keonepoko Elementary closed, and in early November, Pahoa received nearly 300 students from the school, according to Michelle Payne-Arakaki, Pahoa Elementary Principal. The students who were sent to attend Pahoa Elementary live south of the flow. Payne-Arakaki said that the first month of introducing new members in the student population has gone smoothly.

“Today’s tour gave students the opportunity to visibly see the magnitude of this episode and why they were forced to move,” said Keone Farias, current principal of Kea’au Elementary and incoming complex area superintendent for Kau-Kea’au-Pahoa. “Today’s event helps tie in what they’re learning in the classroom and what’s happening in nature. It also helps them build their academic vocabulary and give context to their writing.”

On site were members of the Hawai’i County Civil Defense agency, including Director Darryl Oliveira, who greeted the students at the Pahoa Transfer Station, located on Apa’a Street.

Seven stations were available for the students, each hosted by scientists and experts from the University of Hawai’i at Hilo’s Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes and Hawai’i Electric Light, in addition to those from Hawai’i County Civil Defense.

The stations featured hands-on activities to engage students, including a video, demonstrations of the speed of the lava, and interactive games.


Students were also given the opportunity to offer a makana to Pele at the edge of the now-stalled lava flow. During that time, students were able to express their feelings about being at a new school.

Students were also allowed to touch the fresh hardened lava, learning that although it has cooled on the surface, it’s still in the cooling process underneath and is sharp to touch.

The demonstration of the speed of the lava flow was shown as volunteers asked students to shuffle their feet a minute over the length of a few inches.

Don Thomas, director for UH-Hilo’s CSAV told students, “You don’t have to outrun lava, you can outwalk it.”

Students got an up-close look at one of the utility poles that Hawai’i Electric Light was able to buffer from the lava by using a combination of thermal insulation around the wooden poles, then creating a retaining wall around the poles using concrete and wire fencing filled with cinder.


The tour for the students ended with a viewing of the lava breakthrough around the perimeter of the transfer station.

According to Oliveira, who played a critical role in preparing the community, as well as assisting the DOE during school closures, it was important to allow students whose schools were affected first access to the new lava.

“Some may have a difficult time, so we are trying to reach the kids and hopefully they can walk away feeling more comfortable about the disruption in their lives,” said Oliveira.

Two students who formerly attended Keonepoko and were relocated to Pahoa Elementary describe the field trip as “awesome.”

Another students said “I found it interesting because we got to meet the Civil Defense people and see what they did for us when it came to access road in case the lava came.

“We got to see Pele today, and take pictures of Pele, and see how the lava affected Apa’a Street,” another student noted.

Mayor Billy Kenoi talked about the importance of the children of the community having first access to the transfer station turned view point. “This lava flow has changed the lives of many people in Puna, and we wanted to make sure the school children who were most directly affected by the lava were among the first members of the public to visit the flow and see it up close. Kenoi continues, “This is an opportunity for these students to learn about the awesome power of the volcanoes that formed our island and continue to shape it, and they will remember this experience for many years to come.”

“We are very proud of these children, and proud of their resilience as their families and their community continue to deal with this change,” Kenoi said.

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