Pomaika'i Teacher Planning Retreat

By Melinda Caroll, Youth Education Coordinator

What a special honor t­o work with an organization whose core values include developing creativity, innovative problem solving, integrity and inspiration that embrace the whole child and the whole teacher in a safe and nurturing environment! That is the case with Pomaika’i Elementary School. Ten years ago, Rae Takemoto and her band of co-educators and administrators dared to believe that an arts-immersion school and a publ­ic school could be one in the same on the island Maui! It hasn’t been easy. Paving new pathways of learning aimed at the highest quality education for their students, has taken no small amount of courage and outside-of-the-box thinking, not to mention, hard work! The results, however, are extra value-added inspiration for both teachers and students – an enrichment in learning that money can’t buy!

On July 18th, I had the chance to join Rae and 12 of the teachers from Pomaika’i who will be spearheading their next 3-year educational theme roll-out , “the wellness of the ‘aina (land) is the wellness of the people”, the school garden being the centerpiece for the S.T.E.A.M. education curriculum they are planning – social sciences, technology, engineering and design, arts and math.

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Our trip to Lana’i began well before dawn, our ferry left the Lahaina harbor at 6:30 am! Nonetheless, with sleepy eyes and coffee mugs in hand, we enjoyed the 45 minute gentle ocean ride in the early light of dawn. Upon landing we found our way to a nearby covered area and enjoyed a breakfast of homemade musabi while plunging straight into student transitions, positive classroom strategies, procedural strategies, social-emotional skills, and science notebooks applied to the garden and garden focus, all while practicing a beautiful chant that will soon be taught to the entire school at the beginning of the school year, Oli No Pomaika’i.

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Our chance to dive into Manale Bay for a cooling swim, followed by an entertaining lunch in Lana’i City were highlights of the day. But the best was yet to come! Our speaker at lunch was Simon Tajiri, Lana’i School Principal. After lunch he led us on a  full tour Lana’i School grades K-12, and the beautiful mural projects that have transformed his campus, into a “living” history museum, connecting the diverse communities of Lana’i.  The mural projects required students to study the history of the island of Lana’i, connect to places on Lana’i and do service learning work. They researched through primary sources, by interviewing their kupuna and community members, then co-designed and co-created the murals throughout the school with professional artists and community volunteers.

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The murals are powerful statements unto themselves and one of the reasons why, was their use of a signature style on each mural called Mana-lima. Every mural contains a handprint of every person who participated in creating it. The legacy and lineage of the story in the mural is said to belong to every person who contributed their mana or life force to bring the story to life. Simon told us that by doing it this way, a healing spirit in the community pervaded each new creation. With these murals, he helped retrieve a lost history and forgotten stories of the people and the ‘aina of Lana’i.  He also reminded us of how academics can be made rich through application to addressing real world, place-based issues and concerns. Their over-arching goal: create a sense of pride for growing up and living in their ‘aina, Lana’i. And that they did so beautifully!

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Our group returned from our bonding trip to Lana’i back home to Maui, quite tired, but incredibly inspired by new stories, and new ways to heal and grow community through the arts and arts education! What a way to begin a new school year!

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