It’s back to school for ‘teachers’

Twelve members of the Kaua’i community Tuesday had a chance to live a teacher’s life, if just for one day, through the Hawaii State Teachers’ Association’s “Back to School Hawaii Day.”

Outgoing mayor Maryanne Kusaka and incoming councilman Mel Rapozo were two public figures who took to the classroom for the partnering program, now in its second year. Kusaka was paired with Mrs. Beverly Gotelli’s 6th grade class at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School, while Rapozo went to Wilcox Elementary School’s kindergarten class with Mrs. Lani Gokan.

“What we wanted to do was to help people understand what happens in the classroom and to provide an opportunity for schools and businesses to form partnerships,” said Danielle Lum, HSTA communications specialist.

“It opened a lot of people’s eyes as to what teachers do all day. It raised the respect. No longer are people saying ‘those who can, do, those who can’t, teach,'” Lum explained.

Mrs. Gokan was instructed to “be invisible,” Gokan said, and sat at her desk for the first time in months while Rapozo followed a lesson plan prepared for substitute teachers.

The five-year-olds (and one four-year-old) started the day with their “morning routine,” putting backpacks and homework folders away, getting nametags and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

After morning recess, the kids came back to do “turkey math,” a Thanksgiving coloring exercise and “in no time it was lunch,” Gokan said.

From 10 – 11:30 a.m., Mayor Kusaka was at Chiefess Kamakahelei relating the story of Hiroshima-born Sadako, a young Japanese girl who died of “atom bomb disease,” in the classic book “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.”

The sixth-graders discussed the meaning of offering 1,000 handmade cranes to a loved one – a Japanese legend says that the one who does so will get their deepest wish granted. They also talked about the courage and sacrifice of the book’s main character and the Peace Temple in Japan built in her memory.

As a teacher for 32 years, Kusaka decided to leave the class with a lesson on character. “Is it something you can buy? Is it something someone else can give you?” she asked, “What you choose to do, the friends you choose today will shape your reputation, which will follow you,” she concluded.

An anonymous quotation she shared read: “I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday.”

She shared a Chinese proverb with the students:

“If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in character. If there is beauty in character, there will be harmony in the home. If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.”

Kusaka, who has traveled several times to Japan, also shared her “sukoshi” (little-bit) Japanese language skills during the question-and-answer session: “konnichiwa” means “good day.”

The world of politics frequently turns negative, she said, and hurts her and her family, so she’s going to focus on serving the community in different ways, she told one girl. Later, the kids said the Mayor is “really open and speaks really good, telling you ‘all-kine stuff.’ ” They also found out she is of Portuguese, French and Hawaiian ancestry.

Mel Rapozo, on the other hand, gave his kindergarten kids a different life lesson: “Be friends with each other and don’t do anything mean to hurt anyone.”

His teaching experience last year at Waimea High School was a trial but an eye-opening experience, he recalled. Between overworked teachers, jaded students and limited classroom facilities, he realized how hard a teacher’s job really is.

This year, he switched to the incoming students. “This was more rewarding because they all want to learn and they want to participate,” he said.

He went home with an orchid lei and about a dozen hand-drawn pictures of people smiling and holding hands.

Rapozo, a long-time Special Olympics coach and now a Pop Warner coach, was in the classroom from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. – no aspirin needed. He summed it up in one word: “Awesome.”

Other people who signed up included Tessie Agena, Bob Bartolo; Liz Hahn-Morin, Ron Kikumoto, Roger Peckenpaugh, Myles Shibata, Tom Shigemoto, Orianna Skomoroch, Stacy Wong and Gordon Yee.

The teachers were Devi Berg, Lani Gokan, Beverly Gotelli, Joan Fujimura, Sulynn Hashimoto, Maryanne Sadaoka, Melissa Speetjens, Michelle Steinohrt, Christie Nii, Melinda Madison, Lillian Watabara and Paul Zina.

Staff Writer Kendyce Manguchei can be reached at kmanguchei@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 252).

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