Pomaika‘i students record music CD

Funds raised will help provide resources for school’s arts programs

Hawaii musician John Cruz gets pumped up with 3rd-graders at Pomaika‘i Elementary School on April 2. Cruz sings the lead on the students’ song, “Na Maka O Ka Aina,” or “The Eyes of the Land,” on the school’s first album, which drew inspiration from the school’s garden program. -- The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo

KAHULUI — Pomaika’i Elementary School students were joined by Grammy Award winner John Cruz this month as they belted out songs about the environment, ohana and caring for the earth for the school’s first student-written album, called “Songs for Change.”

With the Kahului school’s library transformed into a recording studio, books were the audience for the students’ melodies and for Cruz, who is singing lead on the 3rd-graders’ reggae song, “Na Maka O Ka Aina,” or “The Eyes of the Land.” Cruz, a singer, songwriter and performer, also is a Na Hoku Hanohano award winner and serves as Pomaika’i’s artist mentor.

“I love the songs, fantastic songs,” Cruz said prior to taping his contribution to the album last week. “They came up with great lyrics.”

Cruz, who grew up on Oahu and recently moved to Maui, said he supports what Pomaika’i Elementary does as an arts-integrated school. Pomaika’i is the first and only public elementary school on Maui to employ an arts-integration curriculum. It was also the first public elementary arts-integrated school to open in the state in 2007, with others that followed on Oahu.

“The value of having arts in schools just cannot be overstated. Arts are life. Arts are so important to learning,” said Cruz, who is also involved with a nonrelated national Turnaround Arts program at other Hawaii schools.

Hawaii musician John Cruz poses with 3rd-graders at Pomaika‘i Elementary School recently. Cruz sings the lead on the 3rd-graders’ song, “Na Maka O Ka Aina,” or “The Eyes of the Land,” on the school’s first album, which drew inspiration from the school’s garden program. -- The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo

The album has seven songs, one for each grade, along with a song from the teachers, said Rae Takemoto, the school’s arts-integration coordinator.

For the album, students used their experiences and lessons from the school’s garden program, Takemoto said. Not only did students learn the sciences of planting and growing, the lessons carried over to the regular classrooms and into the STEAM education, or science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

She added that before students enter the school’s garden they do an oli, or chant. “Everything is connected in the school,” Takemoto said.

The school was trying to find a way to celebrate its garden program. Takemoto added that she was trying to find a way to incorporate an Art-Place America Grant from Malamalama Maui and help from performer Melinda Caroll’s nonprofit “When We Shine,” a social artistry and arts of change network.

“Melinda is such a talented musical artist, so we figured let’s capitalize on her talent,” Takemoto said.

Entertainer John Cruz works with fellow singer and record producer Melinda Caroll on April 2 at Pomaika‘i Elementary School’s library. The two helped the school put together the album “Songs of Change,” which is about the environment as well as taking care of the land. -- The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo

Caroll is an international song leader, writer and arts program developer for The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. She, too, is a Na Hoku Hanohano winner.

“Nothing brings people together more than singing. We wanted to create these songs to bring our children together, our school together and our community together,” Takemoto said.

Caroll said a songwriting residency at the school began in September and songwriting was completed in March. The concept began in the summer of 2017 with her and Takemoto.

Caroll said she and Takemoto want “children to experience creativity and art, to uncover their own abilities at storytelling, problem-solving and empowerment (and) to become creators.”

Takemoto added that one class per grade level worked on the songs. Students came up with the words first, then wrote the songs with Caroll’s help.

“The students’ songs are amazing,” Caroll said. “I simply serve as the facilitator helping them assemble their own lyrics, melodies and rhythms.”

Caroll works with musical partner David Kauahikaua, who is the co-artistic producer and co-arranger on songs and vocals. Kauahikaua worked on the recordings in the library along with Caroll and Takemoto last week.

Takemoto said the types of songs vary. One grade level sings about the relationship between pollinators of the Lehua blossoms and the pulelehua butterfly.

Another grade sings about the carbon cycle.

“It’s really fun. It’s about composting,” Takemoto said of the carbon cycle song.

She added how important it is to have composting, especially for island residents.

Overall, Takemoto was inspired by hearing the students sing and their messages. These included students singing as soloists.

“This is our first (album), and we hope to produce more,” Takemoto said. “The idea behind the CD is the funds that are generated from the CD sales will go back into funding projects similar to this. It will go back to funding arts integration projects at Pomaika’i school, and we want to do outreach to other schools as well.”

The album has instrumental versions of songs that allow other schools and students to sing along.

The CDs will cost $15 and will be sold at the school’s Artist in Me Night on April 26. Cash only. Music downloads also will be available on Apple iTunes.

Takemoto said that just the production of the album cost more than $7,000 and was made possible by Malamalama Maui, along with Caroll’s organization “When We Shine,” a­long with donors Doug and Madeline Callahan and in-kind donations from Friends of Pomaika’i.

The email address for donations to the CD album effort is friendsofpomaikai@gmail.com.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.