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Getting in GEER: Good news for students, communities

Posted on Aug 25, 2021 in Capitol Connection, Featured, Main
‘Iolani School’s Yvonne Chan (left) and Eric ‘Iwakeli‘i Tong will be working with 17 other schools statewide to prepare more Hawai‘i students for careers in biotechnology.

‘Iolani School’s Yvonne Chan (left) and Eric ‘Iwakeli‘i Tong will be working with 17 other schools statewide to prepare more Hawai‘i students for careers in biotechnology. (Photo: Honolulu Star-Advertiser)

What if you could attract some of the state’s most innovative educators and community partners and provide them with enough support to make a difference for students and whole communities? That was Governor Ige’s vision when he and his Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) advisory group issued the call for creative, collaborative approaches to education. The federal GEER funds were allocated to all of the nation’s governors to help schools respond to the pandemic and the challenges it created.  Some governors opted to fund more remote learning equipment and PPE, but the Ige team wanted to think even bigger. For Hawai‘i, the funds provided a way to build on the governor’s 2016 Blueprint for Public Education and reinvent learning in a world changed by COVID-19. Out of more than 200 applicants, 31 awardees were chosen. Each project has multiple partners across several islands — from public and private schools and colleges to nonprofits.

Why are these innovation grants so important? “The GEER funds are helping us create a network of innovation to better connect with students,” said the governor. “Often we say government is very risk-averse. We wanted this grant program to encourage schools and teachers to take risks and support creative ideas so we can transform education. That’s what makes it so exciting.” The result is 31 of the most inspiring, creative initiatives you could imagine with the potential to change lives — and, in some cases, entire communities. If that sounds a little over the top, just talk with some of the project coordinators who will be launching their programs with the $8.1 million in GEER funding. They speak to some of the most pressing issues facing students today: learning differences and drop-out rates, food insecurity, leadership training, family literacy and culture-based questions. Many projects take on some of the state’s toughest issues, such as teacher shortages and helping small businesses survive a pandemic as well as providing career pathways to build Hawai‘i’s future in telehealth, sustainable agriculture, digital and other creative arts, genome science and natural resource management.

To further build the innovation legacy of the project, all the participants will become part of a “community of practice” to create lessons that can be shared with other schools and organizations. They’ll also come together next summer to present their final projects in a public forum for more sharing of ideas. “With so many schools involved, we wanted these projects to create a real community of innovators to carry us into the future,” said the governor, “beyond the pandemic.” For a list of awardees, project descriptions and the schools involved statewide, go to

Read more in the September Capitol Connection newsletter.

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