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My Night at Wahiawa Middle School

Posted by JEAN TOYAMA
Saturday, April 02, 2011 12:53 AM



I did something different last night, a parent-teacher-student event at Wahiawa Middle School. It was “English Night” and I was invited by my grand-niece, Miss Favinger, who teaches English here, to participate. Different departments are in charge of these events (next time it’s PE night.) The whole group was divided into three for different simultaneous stations. This was good, since I could adapt each session according to the effectiveness of the previous one. What made the evening very interesting for me was that my audience consisted of kids as young as first grade as well as adult fathers, mothers, uncles and grandmothers, perhaps a few non-English speakers. There was a mixture in each group. I wanted to talk about renshi and the contact, connect, collaborate themes. However, when I looked at the mixture of ages and backgrounds, I wondered whether it would work.

I started talking about reading and writing as the basis of all learning, especially, learning about ourselves. I tried to emphasize that we can learn about ourselves and how to become human by working out our thoughts through writing. Yes, reading and writing are sources of reflection. I wanted to say this, because parents were listening to me. My poems, I told them, are the results of reflection. (A few came up to me later to tell me how much their children love to read and write!)

Because of the young people, I started out with a book I just wrote but have not mentioned previously: Kelli’s Hanauma Friends. It’s a book of poems and pictures about the wonderful creatures of the bay. I was able to project the images from the book on to a screen. For the second half of the first session (10 minutes) I switched to the month of September from No Choice but to Follow. I needed to find a poem that would be accessible to all, so I chose, “Canvas”, which is about memories of my father. This was fine; it even brought tears to eyes of one of the teachers! Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to give any background on the poems of my fellow poets: temple ropes made of human hair, images like those of Frida Kahlo. I felt like I was losing my audience. But when I asked them what they remembered of any of the poems I had read in order to distribute door prizes (a few CD’s of No Choice and coupons for books), some people remembered the “hard poems.”

So for the next two sessions I stuck with Kelli’s Hanauma Friends. Having those beautiful images and the poems themselves projected on the screen really helped reach this motley group. Parents, teachers and students were so attentive, even the youngest ones. Anyone can relate to these creatures. I really enjoyed the group!

It seems that the science teacher will be using Kelli’s in his classes because I also include the scientific names of these creatures. Some of the English teachers will also try a hand at renshi, even though I wasn’t able to do renshi justice. I invited all to this website so that they could learn more. I hope that they are reading this.

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