The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

GSD Program Facing New Changes

Teachers Kaela Clapp and Samuel Vierra in January 2020

Mr. Samuel Vierra (Academy Social Studies teacher) and Mrs. Kaela Clapp (Academy English teacher) have announced their departure from Punahou School after this school year and will be passing on their positions in the Global Sustainability and Design (GSD) program to a new set of teachers.  

The GSD courses have been steadily growing in size and gaining widespread recognition throughout the Punahou community since the program’s inception in 2019, with more students enrolling in the project-based learning courses every year. 

Mrs. Clapp and Mr. Vierra with students in the English and Social Studies GSD pilot (January 2020)

Mrs. Clapp and Mr. Vierra taught the English and Social Studies branch of the 9th-grade GSD course for the first time two years ago with fifteen students who piloted the program. Since then, GSD has become a permanent part of the course catalog, teaching students how to innovate, ask meaningful questions, and have agency over their learning. Although GSD courses are new to Punahou, this type of curriculum has been implemented in schools around the world in an attempt to allow students to demonstrate their learning in multiple ways.

With two of the founding GSD teachers leaving, Punahou has the task of finding teachers to uphold the pedagogical approach that they have curated over the past few years. “Well to start with, Punahou is going to hire positions specifically focused on GSD classes,” said Clapp. 

Dr. Robyn Vierra (Director of Global Education) who is also leaving at the end of the semester stated, “The hiring season is just about to start for Punahou so I think that the job description is being finalized.” She went on to say that they have spent the semester making sure that everything is in place so that GSD can continue. [Editor’s note: At the time of publication, the search processes for these positions had been completed. KP will continue our coverage of the GSD program next school year.]

The GSD curriculum is most notable for the “action” projects of its programs, which begs the question of whether the same type of curriculum will be used in the coming years. Mr. Vierra explained how the structure of the course revolves around the assessments, saying, “We use Things Fall Apart and the Holocaust as vehicles to get to those assessments, but we’re going to leave a curriculum where ‘call to action’ projects remain in place. How the new teacher gets there could be different.”

While the future teachers of the English and Social Studies strand are still unknown, Mr. Vierra believes that Punahou will stay committed to these initiatives. “I think Punahou recognizes the impact that these courses have had, and I think they’re going to continue to support them,” said Mr. Vierra. “In fact, both Mrs. Clapp’s and my [new] roles are basically to create programs like this. So this is something that should not just be built and sustained at Punahou, but it’s a method, it’s a philosophy, that hopefully can be explored in other schools.”

The course enrollment for GSD will continue to stay strong next year. There are already two sections per strand for the 9th-graders, reaching almost 150 freshmen a year, along with the GSD Asian Studies program that will have four sections for the next school year.

“I think project-based learning is more and more the direction that people are moving toward, and I think that teaching and practicing ‘real-world skills’ is something that is becoming more common,” said Clapp. 

Mr. Vierra concluded by saying, “I hope Punahou recognizes the power and potential of these classes – to truly be a global leader in education.”

Disclosure: The author of this article (Aria Saines ‘23) and incoming Editor-In-Chief (Ezra Levinson ‘23) both participated in the first-year pilot of the 9th-grade English and Social Studies GSD course with Mrs. Clapp and Mr. Vierra as teachers.

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