Listen to Jason:

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

Sharing Aloha in our public schools.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Jason Poole, Accidental Hawaiian Crooner, Molokai, Halawa Valley, Anakala Pilipo Solatorio, Midori and Friends, Aloha, teaching artist

My ‘eke (bag) filled with an ipu heke, pūʻili, a shell lei and my ʻukulele.

Last week I had the great privilege of teaching/sharing Hawaiian music and culture at a public elementary school out in Howard Beach, New York. My friends lovingly refer to it as the “far out school.”  But not in a Greg Brady or John Denver kind of “far out” way.  See, this school is about a two hour commute from my apartment. To get there, I’ve got to take the subway for about an hour and then walk approximately 1.5 miles to get to the school through neighborhoods and over footbridge that crosses a busy highway. In previous years, I’ve visited this school in the scorching heat and humidity of early summer as well as the freezing cold of deep winter with icicles hanging from my nose.

But this school is a favorite place to teach/share Hawaiian music and culture.  The students and the faculty celebrate music and diverse cultures. This was my third year acting as a visiting teacher via Midori & Friends, the non-profit music education organization I work with.  When I walked through the door last Monday, it was a homecoming of sorts. (And they always make me feel like a rock star!)

When they ask if I can come and do a residency, the answer is always a resounding YES.

Did I mention that at this school I work with the kindergarten classes? Yup. All of ‘em.  That means I’m sharing Hawaiian music and culture with about 110 students, all of ‘em about five years old.  It’s like doing four back-to-back high energy shows every day. (It reminds me of college-age summers when I performed at a theme park.) It’s wild. It’s exhausting.

And it’s one of the most soul-fulfilling experiences of my life.

It dawned on me a little while ago that most of these kids have only been on the planet for about five years. They haven’t seen all of the touristy photos and movies about Hawai’i that are circulating among the masses. They’re not familiar with with the postcard “paradise” images that so many people associate with the Hawaiian islands–and that’s a blessing. (For one thing, I don’t have to spend as much time convincing them that Hawai’i is real place with real people and not just drowsy-eyed ’ukulele strummers sitting under coconut trees or majestic surfer dudes riding the waves with ladies sitting on their shoulders.)

For a lot of them, I am giving them their first taste of the islands and traditional Hawaiian culture. (But you know, no worries. No pressure or anything!) I have the privilege/honor/kuleana of introducing them to Hawai’i.

I bring my ‘ukulele. I bring maps. I bring lots and lots of photos. I share lots and lots of stories. One of the perks of being an “outsider who became an insider” of Hawai’i and her culture is that I’ve done everything–and I mean everything–wrong at some point. I’ve stumbled and stammered and put my foot in my mouth more times than I care to disclose.  So when I tell them about Hawai’i, I share it from the perspective of a fellow newbie/neophyte. We laugh a lot. I try to make them feel like we’re all learning together.

We sing songs, both traditional school kid-kine songs and my own original compositions. This year, I wanted to write a new song about Hōkūleʻa and how the canoe will be visiting New York City in 2016. I wanted the kids to have a song they could carry and simple hula they could dance–something to share with the crew if they went to visit the boat. (Songs and hulas are free and portable. You can’t beat that!)

I really struggled with the song at first, wanting to make it perfect, wanting to write something profound. But it came down to this: I needed to create something simple and relatable for these kids. I wanted to share 2 things: Hōkūleʻa is sailing around the world. She’s carrying a message of Mālama Honua, taking care of the earth.  Once I got my ego out of the way (Imagine standing in front of the Hōkūleʻa crew with throngs of students all singing the song and doing the simple hula!) the song basically wrote itself. A simple song. A simple hula. And an opportunity to discuss how we all have the responsibility to mālama honua.

All week long, we sang and danced ourselves silly. We laughed at stories of the goofy things that Uncle Jason has done in Hawaiʻi, about being afraid of lizards in the house, about getting a bellyache from eating too much inamona.

I told them about Hālawa Valley and its lifestyle that is so much like the traditonal lifestyle of Hawaiʻi long ago.  We talked about how Mom and Pops Solatorio adopted me into their family, how I look different from all of their children, how ʻohana is family based on feeling instead of bloodline.

I gave them a very basic introduction to the Hawaiian language.

And these kids! Ah! I’ll tell you, they’re so wonderful they can make your knees buckle with their smiles and enthusiasm.

There are kids in the classroom who don’t speak English very well. But you’d be amazed to see that these are the same little kids who give you a shaka and an “Aloha, Uncle Jason!” every morning when you greet them.  There are other kids who are part of the special needs program who shock me by coming up to me and saying, “Uncle Jason, did you know there are three ways to say Hawai’i (Ha-WHY-ee, Ha-WAH-ee and Ha-VAI-ee) and also I love you.”

And when I walked down the halls of the schools in between classes, I felt like a celebrity. Those shining faces with bright eyes, those little hands giving me a shaka wave and their voices ringing out, “Aloha, Uncle Jason!”

Come on! Does it get any better than that?

On Friday, all four of the classes gathered in the school’s auditorium for our big “show.” My friend, Kaina, came to dance hula for them. And they were so excited to share the songs and keiki hulas they’d learned with her!  Imagine a school’s auditorium, nearly-filled to capacity with kindergarten students (and some fifth graders who’d recently done a report on Hawai’i), all singing and dancing.

Incredible.  It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

You know, I freaked out a little bit when Pops gave me the title of Kumu Hawaii a few years ago, when he said, “Now it’s YOUR turn to be a teacher.” I asked him what I was supposed to do with that heavy responsibility. I hadn’t grown up in Hawai’i.  I didn’t think anyone would want to learn from someone like me.

But that’s where I was wrong. I was hung up on my skin color, my background, the fact that I’m not Hawaiian. He had trained me and tested me. He trusted me. I needed to trust myself.

And I remind myself of that every time I do a new residency, every time I have the opportunity to share what’s been so graciously and lovingly shared with me.

When I walked away from the school on Friday, I knew that I’d planted seeds of Aloha. Some would grow. Some might not. Some kids may remember my name someday. Some might not. But I’ll bet a lot of them will remember that a man came to their school when they were kids and he brought an ‘ukulele and wore wild shirts and leis. He sang songs and taught them to hula. And he taught them that Aloha doesn’t mean “Hi” or “Goodbye” but it really means, “I love you my friend.”

And if that’s all that they remember, then I’ve done my job.

A blessing, indeed.

Mahalo for that, kids.

Right on.



Summer Vacation? Well…

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Some of the nicest gifts I've ever received. Thanks, kids! You all rocked!

This spring, I was given the awesome opportunity to share Aloha with school kids here in NYC.  And yesterday, I finished my final session at the last school.

Backstory: Midori & Friends, a non-profit music education organization, placed me in FIVE elementary schools over the past few months.  Some residencies lasted two weeks.  Others lasted as long as nine weeks!  There was a period that I was working with four schools at the same time!  (Please click HERE and HERE to read about some of my adventures in the schools.)

It was Heaven.  It was really hard.  But mostly, it was Heaven.

This morning, I woke up and my brain was still on autopilot.

As my eyes tried to adjust to the light in the kitchen while I made coffee, I began the daily ritual of going through my mental TO DO list for the day.  Which school was I heading to today?  What time I would need to get on the subway in order to arrive on time.   Where had we left off in our last session?  What things would I need to pack in my “Amazing Hawaiian Bag” so that we’d be ready to start, again, today.

And then it dawned on me:  I don’t need to report to a school today.

Summer vacation is here?  Is that possible?


With a cuppa Joe in my hand,  I headed out to my desk.

Again, I asked myself: Am I on summer break?

Not really.  I have all sorts of projects/items on a standing TO DO list that have been waiting patiently for me to finish up my work with the schools so that I could take care of ‘em.

Panic gripped my chest as I thought about all of the things that had been piling up.  What started out as simple things now appeared as monsters–threatening to swallow me alive.

As Anne Lamott reminds writers, we tackle big tasks “bird by bird.”  One thing at a time…

Beside me lay a huge canvas tote bag–my Amazing Hawaiian Bag–stuffed to the top with all sorts of things: songbooks, my pū/conch shell trumpet, hula implements, different varieties of lei, a kīhei and all sorts of other things buried in the pockets.  Things that had been collecting over the past months.

A great place to start!  I would unpack my the Amazing Hawaiian Bag and put the items away until the next residency begins in the new school year.

The first thing I pulled out was a pile of papers that had been given to me by the students yesterday. They are 3rd graders who are really concentrating on their writing skills.  They’d written me the most beautiful, heartfelt letters describing their favorite parts about our time together.

I started reading one.  And then another.  And then another.

And I cried.

Not a weepy, sorrow-filled tear session.  I cried because of their beautiful words.

Then I told myself to “get a grip!” and pushed the pile of letters aside.

I reached further into the bag and pulled out the seashell lei that one of the classes had made for me. (Again, stinging eyes from potential tears.)

I went to put the items in my bedroom and came across a book of photos and drawings that the kids at another school had made for me.

And that was beside a pile of cards and drawings that yet another group of students had made for me.

I took that as a sign.

I carried everything the kids had made for me out to the kitchen table.  I poured myself a fresh cup of coffee.  And I sat and read through their words and was amazed by their drawings and photos.

I surrounded myself in the lei of Aloha that they’d given me.

I’ll tackle the rest of the unpacking of that “amazing Hawaiian bag” tomorrow.

Today I’m just taking it all in.

And I’m filled with gratitude.

Mahalo, thank you, to the kids and the teachers and the schools for an amazing spring session of residencies.

Mahalo for the laughter!

Mahalo for teaching me how to be a better teacher.

Mahalo for joining me in the planting of some seeds of Hawaiian culture here in NYC.


Teachin’ Tales (5.10.12)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

jason poole, Accidental Hawaiian Crooner, NYC, teaching, Teachin' tales

Sharing Hawaiian stories, music and culture with kids here in NYC!

Sharing Hawaiian music and stories with kids is one of my favorite things in the world.

Telling them about my experiences in Hālawa Valley on Molokai–and all of the trouble that I get myself into–is just plain fun!  And at some schools I have the pleasure of teaching some basic strumming skills on the ʻukulele.

(I know, right?!  Yes!  Sharing Hawaiian culture, music and stories with school kids here in NYC!)

I promised Pops I’d find a way to share what he’s been sharing with me.  And I feel like I’m honoring my commitment to him.  (And having fun at the same time.)

I can honestly say that every time I step into a classroom to work a group of kids, something memorable happens.

Like earlier this week…

I was teaching in school out in Queens.  I have the pleasure of working with some amazing kids at this location–and they’re learning to play the ʻukulele, as well!  Double bonus!

We started the class with some stories.  And then we added some songs.  And then we began to explore the magic of the ʻukulele.

One  of the first things I share with them are the parts of the ʻukulele.  No one ever did that with me and so I felt like it was some kind of mysterious and magical thing that I’d never understand.  Kids have no problems jumping in and asking–and they seem to love learning not only the parts of the ʻukulele, but also HOW the sound is made, how it travels through the air, etc.

I always explain how the tuning pegs work.  AND I ask them to please refrain from twisting/turning them as I spend a good amount of time before the first class making sure that all of ‘em are tuned up and ready to go.  For the most part, the kids respect my wishes and we make beautiful music (in tune!) together.

I’d just finished the class and was putting the ʻukuleles back into the cart and bag that I use to transport them from room to room.  I had my back turned toward the class and their teacher had them lining up at the classroom door to go to lunch.

All of a sudden, I heard “Hey, Mr. Jason?”

I turned and saw one of the little guys standing at my side.  He looked like a young version of a grown up with a serious expression on his face, a wrinkled brow and his hands in his pockets.

“I wanted to know how long it takes you tune up those ʻukuleles.”  (Note:  I LOVE that he pronounced it Hawaiian-style: oo-koo-leh-leh!  Awesome!)

“Well,” I said, “it takes me a little less than an hour to get all of ‘em tuned up and ready for you guys.”

“Is it hard to do?  I mean, is it hard to get ‘em all to sound the same?”  (When he asked me this, he reminded me of a man talking to another man working on a car.  Like he was asking, “What kind of engine you got under that hood?”)

“Nope.  I like it.  Every time I do it, I sing the little song about ‘My Dog Has Fleas’ and that always makes me smile.  It takes a while, but it’s fun.”

He stood there quietly for minute and then he said, “I think I might want to do what you do when I grow up.  I think the ʻukulele is pretty cool.”

Yup.  True story.

I have an awesome job.  And I’m so very grateful for that.


Grateful and exhausted.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

jason poole, accidental hawaiian crooner, Aloha, gang.

My mind and body are exhausted tonight. 

And my heart is full.

These past few weeks have been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs and twists and turns.  Lots of opportunities to SHOW UP AND SAY “YES!” to the reality of the situations–both good and bad.  And I’m grateful for that.

Today, I needed to “dig deep” to find the inspiration to SHOW UP AND SAY “YES!” to teaching and sharing–the job that Pops has asked me to do.  It’s always an honor to share Hawaiian music and culture–although sometimes it feels like it would be easier to hide under the covers.

But we show up.  We honor the commitment we’ve made.

And it’s always wonderful.

I love being surprised at the goodness that comes from times like that.  Times when you feel like you’re running on empty–like even the reserve tanks are empty–and you can’t give anymore.  It’s times like that where I find my tank has been filled, again.  In ways I hadn’t even imagined.  Listening to little kids singing.  Watching someone discover the joy of making music (all by themselves!) by strumming an ‘ukulele.

So my mind are body are exhausted tonight.

But my heart is full.

Mahalo, thank you, for that.

How was YOUR day?  What’s happening in YOUR world?  Drop me a line!  I’d love to hear from you.

1 Comment