The Chase Project

Summit + Hanahau‘oli School

Oahu K-12 Schools
Place Makiki
Text Will Caron
Thread School of the Future

Hanahau‘oli School is dedicated to educational excellence by making learning exciting, challenging and enjoyable. Hanahau‘oli is committed to learning by doing. The school integrates the essential skills and concepts of the basic disciplines, promotes critical and creative thinking and emphasizes the important role of the arts as an expression of self and culture. The learning environment also integrates school life with the home and world, and encourages partnerships within the community. The Hanahau‘oli child develops as a unique individual, with a deep sense of groundedness, demonstrated by a respect and responsibility to self and others within a diverse and global society.

On the corner of Nehoa and Makiki Streets, nestled behind a tall Mock Orange hedge, is Hanahau‘oli, a small, private elementary school where students learn by doing. In Marsha Shimek's fourth and fifth grade multi-age group, this philosophy was well captured during the students' Physical Challenges unit in January, 2013.

The unit is designed to help the students better understand the challenges people with disabilities encounter and how to accept their differences. Shimek's students were able to participate in a design thinking process aimed at supporting someone with physical challenges.

Shimek's daughter had met a family whose young toddler was born with Arthrogryposis, a condition which prevents muscle development. Chase cannot lift his arms and cannot stand on his own, but relishes each small accomplishment he makes. He especially likes to paint with the toes on his left foot.

"I wanted to do a design thinking project where my students would meet Chase via Skype and learn about him first-hand," says Shimek. "They would then brainstorm ideas for devices they could make to help Chase do the things he likes."

To show her students that the process for creating their devices is a real world skill, Shimek had Hanahau'oli alumni Micah Baclig, then a senior at the Rhode Island School of Design, talk to the class about how designs evolve.

"Micah was very inspiring to the children because he was able to show them how this design project translates into real life," says Shimek. "His passion for art, design and creative thinking was guiding him toward a future career. It showed our children that our passions can and should apply to real life."

Together, the students created mock-ups for toys and devices, and then executed their ideas using recycled materials and craft supplies at the Art Explorium in Ka'imuki. Shimek was invited to participate in a world-wide design thinking conference called Building Learning Communities after its founder, Alan November, visited Hanahau'oli and heard about The Chase Project.

"[Alan] is passionate about design thinking as a tool to educate. It's something classrooms are incorporating more and more," says Shimek. "Hanahau'oli is small, yet we are reaching out, making connections to other communities, sharing and learning beyond our hedge, so to speak. I think it proves that learning by doing enables people to understand ideas in a meaningful way."

Since the project, Chase has stood on his own two feet for the first time with the aid of a device that straightens and supports his legs.

"He's got a long road ahead of him, but he's probably the happiest child I've ever met," says Shimek. "He's thrilled with every success he has, big or small."


Summit is Hawaii's magazine of ideas and style for the global citizen. We're named for Queen Kapiolani's motto, "kulia i ka nuu," strive for the summit. Summit is available on fine newsstands throughout North America and the Asia-Pacific region.

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Ikaika Hussey
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Will Caron
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