James Ballao likes to say that learning means more than just paper and pencils at the desk. Needless to say, his Baldwin High School students really appreciate that approach to teaching social studies.
“I like to use geneaology with the kids to tie history to their lives,” he says. “‘What was your great, great, great, great, great grandfather doing?’ I ask them. What was it like during his time? Then I turn it around and say, ‘what kind of world are your great grandchildren going to live in?’”
Part of his social studies curriculum for the last four years has focused on the canoe. More specifically, on the International Festival of Canoes held in Lahaina every May.
Five years ago Ballao was just a bystander. He says he was awed by the event, especially the fact that Lahainaluna kids were carving and participating. Then he ended up talking story with local Lahaina activist Ke’eaumoku Kapu about getting the Wailuku side kids involved. He introduced Ballao to event organizer Theo Morrison and then they went from there.
Ballao says he’s always had an affinity for the canoe. “I had a book on canoes I took out of the library as a kid and I just loved it,” he says. “I think ended up forgetting to ever return that book. I never had any experience carving a canoe but I had a great calling towards it.”
It was that passion for hands-on learning that four years ago led him to Mike Tavioni, a master carver from the Cook Islands. Today, Ballao heads the Baldwin High carving team, sponsored this year by the Maui Marriott.
The team has been working on a Hawaiian opelu canoe. Built for fishing, its hull is deeper and wider than that of a racing canoe. Charlie Noland, an experienced carver who also sits on the festival committee, is guiding the crew.
Finding kids to participate was easy, but Ballao found that getting time off school was more difficult. Getting the kids to the carving team required taking them out of school for the two weeks needed to complete and launch the canoes. But Ballao says that many of his colleagues support the event.
“Some teachers even bring their students down to see the progress here,” he says. “I really have to thank my principal, Stephen Yamada, for allowing us the opportunity to be here, too.”
Joining Ballao this year for the first time is his long time friend Alex Ishikawa, a teacher at Maui Youth and Family Services. Ishikawa’s involvement meant that the team could include students from that program as well.
Basically, their idea is to spread the word about canoe carving in an attempt to get as many students as possible to participate. Ballao’s personal goal for the festival is having all the schools send an apprentice team.
“Creating a bridge from the past to the future is what it’s all about,” says Ballao. “If the kids can learn the past and add it to the present to build their future then I have done my job. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see the master carvers from all the different island nations training teams from all the schools on Maui?” MTW