Where the Wild Kids Are

Our upcoming generations are micro-managed,” says teacher Christina Hoe. “They are overscheduled with sports and lessons and this and that … they have so little time to just ‘be.’ That has a negative impact on how we develop as people—you have to have unstructured time in the natural world.”

Hoe is providing that unstructured time out in Kailua’s open spaces through her Wild Kids club that’s developed a strong following through the years.

The group hikes after school, learning about environment: symbiotic relationships, different plants—whether they’re invasive, native or non-native, the “leave no trace” ethic and basically, to have respect for the natural world, themselves and each other.

While the group is based at Le Jardin Academy, it’s open to all kids. To help facilitate this, there are periodic weekend hikes, where the families and friends join in on the outdoor adventure. And, at the end of each Wild Kids session, there’s a camping trip.

The club also participates in eco-events around town including beach and marsh clean-ups.

The Montana born-and-raised teacher found her inspiration for Wild Kids in her own childhood living on the Blackfeet Reservation. Her mother was passionate about the environment, and she and her siblings grew up knowing the name of every plant and animal in their midst.

“My mom was a single-mom raising me and my sister and putting herself through school,” she explains. “We never had any money … we didn’t have a TV, but we had shelves of National Geographic magazines, lots of interesting college textbooks, a radio that always played NPR, and a thriving garden. When I was about 10 years old, I picked up a National Geographic that was about the volcanoes in Hawai‘i. It terrified and fascinated me. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere with lava … and, I had never seen the ocean. I must have paged through that particular National Geographic a hundred times. And, every time, I had a nightmare about giant waves and mountains of fire.”

Hoe went on to serve as valedictorian of her high school class and was accepted at Dartmouth University, where she joined a campus a cappella group, the Dartmouth Rockapellas. It was this group that would eventually bring her to Hawai‘i.

“When I was a sophomore, we came on tour to Hawai‘i…I was 20 years old and it was the first time I had ever seen the ocean, the first time I had ever set foot in salt water and the first time I had ever seen a rainforest eco system.”

By the end of that tour, Hoe had made a pact to come back to Hawai‘i after graduation. True to her word, Hoe moved to Hawai‘i in 2002. She worked for Cynthia Thielen at the state Capitol. “One of my projects was to help Kawainui Marsh become a Wetland of International Importance,” she says. “I’m proud to say that distinction was achieved in 2005.”

Since first coming to Hawai‘i, she’s left twice: to teach middle school in the Bronx through Teach for America and to sail to New Zealand. Both experiences solidifi ed her commitment to teaching children about the world around them and making it a better place.

Hoe even shares her home state with die-hard Wild Kids on camping trips to Montana. “The trip to Montana is very much a ‘family road trip’ experience for the kids and I think that’s what makes it special,” she says. She typically takes a group of boys to Montana, then after a two-day turn-around, she hosts a group of girls.

“(This summer) The boys got to do a traditional sweat lodge up on our reservation … the girls watched two wolves fi ght with two grizzly bears over an elk carcass.”

For Marika Marx, there were life lessons as well. “I had to think ahead to what was going to need to be done, and I sprung to action.”

“The adventure helped us as parents prepare for separation in the future,” says mom Carol Marx. “Eighteen days on a camp adventure across Montana and three calls home make you ready for when college comes about.”

Now, Marika’s experience has only fueled the fire in younger sister Kennedy-Anne, who’s a regular on Wild Kids hikes. “Ms. Hoe taught me to look at things differently,” she says. Now, when we drive down the road to school, I know there is more adventure behind the trees and bushes I see.”