Strengthening Hawaii's Communities

Strengthening Hawaii's Communities
Artists in the Schools

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Artists in the SchoolsTHE ILIAD — THE EPIC POEM attributed to Homer—was originally written in Greek … and might as well still be for many high school and college students assigned to decipher it. Not so for the sixth graders at Kilauea Elementary School on the North Shore of Kauai. For them, the 10-year siege of the city of Troy during the Trojan War is a story they have explored through dance and haiku … and therefore one that they relate to and remember.

Whether sneaking through Egyptian tunnels (under cafeteria tables), or robbing tombs, slaying enemies, or building pyramids, the 26 students in Judy Waite’s class understand the ancient adventure on a visceral level: “I feel like I’m in the story,” said one sixth grader. Another observed, “Wars make angry feelings.” Some of those feelings were expressed by students through their poetry; some were explored as the class read aloud from Black Ships Before Troy.

It is thanks to the Collaborative Residency of classroom teacher Judy Waite and teaching artist Mauli Ola Cook that the lessons of The Iliad came alive for these Kauai students. The idea behind Artists in the Schools—of which the Collaborative Residency is a part—is that artists and teachers engage in professional development and in co-planning ways to weave art into a curriculum that meets DOE-mandated standards. As a result, students gain greater access to arts education, arts are more fully integrated into the regular classroom, and teachers’ capacity to teach the existing curriculum as well as the arts is increased. “By the end of the 10 sessions,” laughs Judy Waite, “I finally got the hang of playing the drum and calling out instructions at the same time.”

The biggest challenge for the veteran teacher was not playing the drum, but becoming a teacher in the first place. Waite worked at Foodland for seven years before deciding that her real calling was not behind a cash register, but in a classroom. At 39 years old, with a two year-old daughter and a husband working as a commercial fisherman, the dream of going back to school to become a teacher was a stretch.

That is, until Judy was awarded a full scholarship designated for older students through the Hawaii Community Foundation. The fund not only covered tuition, but also allowed Judy to travel to the University of Hawaii on Oahu, which at the time was the only option for pursuing the degree she sought. For two-and-a-half years, Judy took 20 credits worth of classes between Tuesdays and Fridays, flying home each weekend to be with her family and to catch up on homework.

If that wasn’t challenge enough, two weeks after she started, Hurricane Iniki hit the island of Kauai and Judy’s husband lost the two jobs he had taken on. She came close to giving up at times, but her perseverance paid off in 1995, when Waite was awarded not one, but two degrees: a bachelor’s in Elementary Education and a teaching diploma.

Judy is doubly thankful to the Hawaii Community Foundation: “They made it possible for me to become a teacher many years ago, and then to become an even better teacher through the Artists in the Schools program.” She is but one of many beneficiaries of the Artists in the Schools (AITS) program, which is administered by the Hawaii State Foundation for Culture and the Arts (HSFCA). The Hawaii Community Foundation matches HSFCA AITS funds to increase the amount available to schools. In the 2011-2012 school year, 78 public and charter schools on six islands received grants.