KAHULUI - Teachers who had never picked up a guitar in their lives are now strumming some basic tunes and using the instrument to reach students in a new and different way.
The experience comes through a project called "Guitars in the Classroom." Founded by Jessica Baron, a San Diego resident and veteran music educator and child development specialist, the program has been implemented in 30 states and provides teachers with free guitars, lessons, educational materials and children's songbooks.
Late last year, Baron introduced the music program on Maui, providing two days of lessons with teachers from Pomaikai Elementary School in Kahului, Kamehameha III Elementary in Lahaina, Maui Preparatory Academy in Napili and Sacred Hearts School, also in Lahaina.
Now, four weeks into a six-week series of lessons, teachers at Pomaikai Elementary and King Kamehameha III Elementary are engaged in weekly two-hour, after-school lessons by "Guitars in the Classroom" teacher Genie Calagna.
Born and raised in Hawaii, Calagna has been involved in the performing arts for many years. She holds a master's degree in arts and theater and has a passion for music and singing.
"I have always deeply believed that music is an extremely powerful tool in education," she said. Baron hired Calagna to take over the guitar and music teaching, which the nonprofit provides as a free service through the use of private grants.
Pomaikai Elementary School 2nd-grade teacher Janice Acopan is among seven teachers who took up the guitar for the first time in a project called “Guitars in the Classroom.”
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
Last week, Pomaikai Elementary teachers showed nervousness about being subjects of coverage by The Maui News, but they were able to relax with Calagna's music instructions and were quickly absorbed into their lesson. They picked up a new song to play for their students while discussing a new community garden on campus.
Calagna's "students" at Pomaikai include Lynette Gordon, a 4th-grade teacher at Kula Elementary School, who was invited by Pomaikai Arts Curriculum Coordinator Rae Takemoto to attend the class; 2nd-grade teachers Janice Acopan and Vicki Yagi; and kindergarten teacher Jennifer Emde.
Acopan said she has used her guitar lessons to talk with students about improved relationships among each other, or to explore students' strong feelings about a topic that arises during the day.
"The kids are very forgiving," Acopan said, being modest about her guitar-playing abilities. "I think they like it when I play."
"Guitars in the Classroom" provides reduced-sized guitars that are easier for beginning players to use. There's also a simplified method for guitar tuning and music lessons.
Yagi said she's used the guitar from time to time in her classroom since learning how to play and has allowed her students the chance to strum the instrument. The guitar has been a means to convey lessons in social studies and science as well as other topics.
"It certainly has brought a lot of joy" to her own personal teaching career, she said. "It helps me to realize and understand on another level that we are all lifelong learners."
Pomaikai Elementary, which opened only a few years ago, encourages the incorporation of performing arts into as many classroom lessons as possible. Yagi said her experience with the guitar also provides her a better appreciation of her students' ability to experience and perform in the arts.
"It gives us the experience and understanding that this isn't easy," she said. "Being able to experience the art form as our students might experience it is very helpful to us. . . . When we understand and feel the love of doing something then we can be more for our students and more of an expert in the field."
Calagna said she and her student teachers often joke that the guitar playing serves as therapy after a long day in the classroom.
"We really just try to have a good time here. I really believe music reaches everyone. It naturally evokes a learning to listen and take in what's happening," she said.
* Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at email@example.com.