Captain of the inflatable fleet

HANALEI — Lola Bresnahan was thrilled when her birthday wish came true and Captain Mark Jeffers showed up in her Hanalei School first-grade classroom with his inflatable whale.

“Lola wishes for this gift every year for her birthday and last year her kindergarten class had the Hawaiian Monk Seal,” said Hanalei first-grade teacher Wendy Paik. “Having the whale was an awesome addition to our unit.”

Every year when humpback whales are around Kauai, Hanalei School focuses on whale lessons and that’s when Jeffers was invited into the classrooms.

“The students learned more facts, saw the whale parts up close, asked questions, and laid inside the whale, listening to whale sounds,” Paik said. “I hope to be able to do this every year — great way to bring a life size whale into your classroom.”

The inflatables offered a refreshing change of pace for the school, said Principal Tahara’a Stein.

“We are not always able to offer experiences that take students to the ocean or museums,” Stein said. “The inflatable classroom gives students an experience that brings to life the science behind the marine mammals they are studying, thus inspiring deeper learning.”

Hanalei School was one of 25 stops in Kauai for Jeffers, who heads up the Storybook Theater in Hanalei and annually tours the islands as Captain Mark with his inflatable marine mammals.

“Having a fleet of inflatable classrooms that are mobile is the bottom line here,” Jeffers said. “It’s experiential in nature and it’s really a positive thing for children.”

From February to April, Jeffers visited nearly 2,000 school children in elementary and preschools across the archipelago, and this year he brought along the newest addition to the fleet: the inflatable dolphin.

It’s a 15-foot long piece made from nylon that can be filled with air and expanded to fit a small group of people inside.

The dolphin joins Jeffers’ inflatable whales, monk seal, and turtle — all of which were made by Evelyn Roth, who has been making similar creations since the 1970s.

Roth is returning to Kauai on June 8, and is bringing another addition to the inflatable fleet: a coral reef, complete with 40 costumes so actors can act out the growth of the reef in a half-hour program.

“We want to share with young people the beauty and mystery of coral, and why it’s so important to us,” Jeffers said.

The inflatable coral display is directed at primary-school age kids, and is very visual with bright colors and actors in capes. It will be available through The Storybook Theater this summer, and will be set up during special events.

“We want to set it up in community places where people will be drawn to it,” Jeffers said.

And while they debut the coral reef as the newest addition to the inflatable classroom fleet at Storybook Theater, Jeffers said Roth will be working on the next one.

“While she’s here and then for the rest of the year, she’s going to be building is an inflatable shark,” Jeffers said.

More info: 335-0712

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