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Envisioning the Dream

In 1990, a team of Advanced Placement Physics students from Konawaena High School designed, built and raced a solar-powered car across the Australian Outback becoming the first high school team to finish the World Solar Challenge, the premier solar energy auto race in the world. The following year, the 1991 Solar Car Team raced through Europe in the Tour Del Sol. In 1993, the team traversed the U.S. mainland from California to Delaware, becoming the first solar car to cross North America.

The team's teacher, Bill Woerner, a veteran educator and visionary, realized that hands-on learning was missing in the traditional classroom setting. He believed that students needed meaningful, real-world experiences in order to succeed. In 1993, Woerner assembled a team of educators, and together with input from students, formed a project-based curriculum. On a hardscrabble lava field, the first WHEA students began to construct their school-without-walls.

Partnerships with several key groups in Kona helped to build the school's infrastructure over time. Students, parents, staff, mentors and community volunteers poured cement, built a 3,000 square-foot workshop pavilion, put up 6,000 square-feet of shade cloth project space, constructed a 9,600 gallon reef simulation tank and a 14,000 gallon live shark display, built benches, assembled bleachers, painted, patched and pitched-in to create one of the most distinctive schools in the world. 

Adapting to Change

Since it was first created, WHEA has practiced what it teaches by being independent and self-sufficient when possible. However, facilities and funding issues continue to challenge the school's mission and the ability to respond to students' needs in a constantly changing world.

As a charter school, WHEA is able to operate independently of the Hawaii Department of Education and exercise autonomy in operations, curricular approaches and governance. The school values its good standing in the community and therefore, its board and administration continue to follow its standards and best practices guidelines, including transparency on all governance matters. 

Although charter schools are public schools, they do not receive facilities funds. They, including WHEA, must pay lease and utility fees out of its instructional funds, even though they are constitutionally entitled to support from the state.


Unfortunately, sharp budget reductions have resulted in significant decreases in the "per student" allotment, while enrollments at charter schools continue to rise. As a result of the inability to receive state funding for facilities, installation of WHEA's existing infrastructure has taken place little by little, over a long period of time.


In addition, the current campus is often affected by inclement weather and noise. A need for a science or wet lab, as well as more opportunities to provide STEM learning (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in a classroom setting is desired. The new education center will help to address many of these issues, and provide students with a more dynamic, cutting edge campus.

The School for Tomorrow

When buildings go up first, ideas come most often as afterthoughts - very few good ideas are intended to fit inside four walls. For WHEA, the ideas came first and since 1994, they have been tested and proven by teachers and students. WHEA is now ready to put up a school around big global ideas. A two-phased plan is underway to build a model environmental education center. With a vision in place as bold as the ideas behind it, WHEA is ready to move forward as the School for Tomorrow.

The new campus will accommodate the needs of students by providing a meaningful and personally relevant education in real-world settings. Indoor and outdoor spaces will allow for a variety of experiences, while also mitigating issues related to noise and bad weather.

Community involvement and partnerships will be strengthened with a new center. Facilities, such as an open amphitheater, will bring individuals, families, and groups together for gatherings, musical performances and special events.


The campus will promote environmental stewardship with a "green" building and module design. Elements of the Hawaiian culture and way of life will be present throughout the campus as well, including the study of sea life with a new aquaculture area, and green houses and agricultural areas that feature indigenous plants.


New buildings and structures will enable teachers and students to employ educational concepts that are proven to work using academically challenging, hands-on tasks. Several teaching areas for the middle and high schools will provide convenient places to work on and report on projects.


The variety of features of the new educational center will serve as a model for project-based education to a larger audience. Not only will it be an example in the fields of science and technology, it will also apply to arts and humanities as well, with the availability of media and music rooms and an art area. 

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