Archive for the ‘Students in classrooms’ Category

Seven year old Kollin was given my Wordsworth the Poet book and according to his mother, he kept rereading the book. You see, Kollin has Wordsworth inside him, too, because he wants to be an artist someday. Not a fiction artist, he said, but a non-fiction one where he will draw nature. One day his uncles took him shopping with “Buy anything you want.” Kollin chose a tablet and a box of crayons. His uncles told his mother, “Hey, something wrong with your son, we expected to buy him all kinds of electronic games but he only chose this paper and crayons.”


This is his book report on Wordsworth the Poet: He used a pumpkin to reproduce Wordsworth.

No wonder Kollin feels so connected to Wordsworth. I have offered to visit his class as Share and Tell and perhaps help release the little poets inside each child.

A generation ago, Kollin’s uncle had the same dream but his immigrant Hmong parents told him this is not why they came to America…he needs to let go his artist dreams and get a real job and he did.

4 WordsworthBooks

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A former first grade student of 50 years ago, got in touch to thank me for teaching her how to read and for adding literature to her life. I sat stunned thinking, “I taught her to read. Imagine that.”

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To friends on Oahu, would love to see you during my coming visit. I’ll be at Ward Warehouse:Native books on August 17 and Sept 3rd:

11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Will be reading Wordsworth, It’s in Your Pocket on Aug 17th and I Am Somebody: Bringing Dignity and Compassion to Alzheimer’s Caregiving on Sept 3rd. Will be signing books on both days.

To my Hilo friends, I’ll be reading Wordsworth, It’s in Your Pocket at Basically Books at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept 10th. Am looking forward to seeing some of my former students who plan to be there. Book signing, too.

Now, to my Kona friends and former students, I’ll be giving the keynote address at the Hawai’i Community Caregivers Network conference at the Sheraton Keauhou on Sept 9th.

My first teaching job was at Konawaena High and Elem School. I taught Kindergarten.

During the first week, a child brought in one of those Life Science books and knowing it was too difficult for five year olds, I showed the illustrations and ad-libbed the text. Arnold ( I still remember you, Arnold) turned to look at his classmates and explained why I was not reading the book,”Her young yet, she don’t know how to read.” Being young, I had to prove I could read so I began to read the text and soon lost all their attention. Having proven my reading abilities, I went on and had a wonderful time. I still remember their names, as I do all the students I’ve taught. Hope some of my students still live in Kona, would love to see them.


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Jake from my initial post Why We Teach, was with me for only one school year so I know what he learned from me is that little pebble tossed into the sea. I sent four of my Wordsworth the Poet children’s books to his young children and today, I received through the mail, a hand written card of thanks from each of his four children along with a drawing of Wordsworth. And another card from Jake.  And this wonder of a young man even purchased four copies of Wordsworth to donate to his daughter’s class. It would have been so easy to email me his acknowledgement but to be a good role model of a parent/teacher,  both parents took  time and effort.  And such joy they brought me. Thank you, Jake. You give me faith in our world that is in turmoil right now.

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A former lst  grader posted the following  recently. Let me tell you about her – Suellen. She was a first  grader in my class along with Philip whom I had memorialized a few weeks ago. I had published my first book of poetry then and made a big splash in the papers with a one page story in the Advertiser because in the 70’s, it was still unusual for a poet of Japanese ancestry to go so public. Even the mayor sent flowers to my signing. In fact, one of the judges in the Circuit Court was heard to say, “No Japanese man will ever date her now.”

During all the buzz at the signing I felt someone in the corner of the bookshop. It was Suellen. She shyly came to me and began to empty her pocket of coins, wanting to buy my book. She didn’t have enough so I added my own. A complete stranger who had flown in from Oahu after reading my story in the paper, was also standing in the back of the room and  murmured, “My god, this is so beautiful.” Suellen had made his day and mine.

The following is what Suellen posted on FB:

This is my first grade teacher Frances Kakugawa. She was such a favorite to me and a most loving person. I am so glad to have reconnected with someone who was such a role model and inspired me. Certain Teachers really made you feel like they care about you and she certainly did. Waiakea Elementary School, at age 6… (49 years ago) she remembers me! I just loved her!

Frances Kakugawa's photo.

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Phil Abbot, well-known radio personality in Hawai’i passed away this week. I knew him as Phil Miyamoto; he was a first grader and later a third grader in my classes in Hilo. I have not seen Phil since third grade, but his late artist mother Kay had kept me updated on PhiI’s life from afar. I regret not calling Phil during my last visit to Hawai’i as promised, but we did email two years ago when we both worked on an obituary story on his mother.


I was a young inexperienced teacher when Phil was in my classes and he taught me to become the kind of teacher students needed.

I had a rule in my class: Whenever a poem comes to you to be written, take your chair and sit under that tree and write. Phil was the only one who took full possession of this rule. During math and science classes, he would take his chair, pencil and paper, look at me, I would nod to him, and he would be under the tree, writing mostly haiku. He was the only one who wrote throughout the year. Yes, he usually chose math and science periods to turn poet, but he did all his work. A few times, other teachers spoke to the principal that my students were being unsupervised outside of the classroom. When the principal came to my room to discuss this problem, I pointed to the tree and said, “I have full view of that tree.” He never approached the complaint again and I continued to be young and sort of arrogantly fearless because I had students like Phil covering my back.


Phil was a leader so his classmates followed him; they liked the children he liked and were rude to others he didn’t like. There was John, I will call him, who was on welfare and was barely making it in class and I saw him being taunted by Phil and his friends. So one day I had a talk with Phil.


“The children in this class see you as a leader, Phil, and when you become a leader, there’s a lot of responsibilities. You noticed, the kids are nice to kids you like and are rude and mean to kids that you don’t like. You don’t like John, do you?” When he nodded, I asked him why.


His reasons were appropriate for 6 years old: he dresses funny, is dirty, smells and makes lots of disruptive noises in class.


“I’m going to give you some adult information, Philip. Only teachers know this so I need to trust you with what I’m going to say.”

He listened intently while I told him John had no mother and his father was in jail for shooting his mother.

Phil made a complete turnaround and began to include all classmates, especially John into his circle of friends. He came to me often to ask me how John was doing and wanted more details of his life.


In third grade, he wrote a stage play for Social Studies. I was certain he would take the lead role but he gave it to John. He assigned roles and became the director. He showed such sensitiveness and patience that I got him a special chair with a sign that said Director as they do in Hollywood. I was so proud of him, he drove me to tears.


This humility and acceptance of people from all walks of life followed him to high school and into the rest of his life. He went surfing with all kids in high school. I know because I checked on him.


Years after he left my class, his mother related the following:

He always kept his protective eyes on me. Every morning he stood near the teacher’s parking lot and waited for me to drive in from Pahoa. Once he saw me drive in , he felt relieved that I had safely arrived. Only then would he begin his school day. His mother or dad stayed with him until I arrived.

When he was in the first grade, he would ask his father to drive him to Pahoa so he could see where I lived. His parents totally supported both of us.

My heart feels broken today for that special little boy and for the man he had become.I hope his sons will find another legacy left by their dad in this story. Thank you, Phil. My heart goes out to your family that you so loved. They’ll be fine, Phil. Believe me, as you did your first grade teacher.


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WW with notepad

The Suzume No Gakko Summer School in San Jose

invited me to speak to their students in grades 1 – 6,  on being an author. It was to captive audiences that I   shared stories on how my Wordsworth books were written. But when Wordsworth made a surprise visit, the stage became all his.

Wordsworth was pretty excited and it looks like he shaved off his whiskers that morning. One alert first grader brought it to his attention.

WW's tail

Wordsworth promised to dance the waltz with everyone at his next visit.


Ww with kids

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Wordsworth and I made the Hawaii newspaper today:

Honolulu Star/Advertiser

February 9, 2013

“Wordsworth! Stop the Bulldozer!” by Frances H. Kakugawa (Watermark Publishing, $10.95), tells the tale of Wordsworth, a small Hawaii mouse, and a few of his friends who use poetry in their attempts save a koa tree grove.

Wordsworth is troubled when he finds a load of fallen trees on a truck bed and a bulldozer ready to plow down the last remaining tree, the one where he and his best friend, Emily, had carved their initials. As the tiny friends struggle to make a difference and preserve the forest, one of Wordsworth’s poems becomes a rallying point as two groups of adult mice debate the trees’ importance.

The friends find their “Save This Tree” poems taped to pine, mango and coconut trees. Young children might get lost in the words, but the message is endearing.

Tree in a Box kits, which can be purchased at www.bookshawaii.net for $14, include seeds to start a milo tree (a type of tree from the hibiscus family, similar to hau) along with a “Wordsworth” book.The activity of planting a tree may make the environmentally friendly message clearer for younger readers.

Colorful illustrations by Andrew J. Catanzariti bring the tale to life.

Write an ode to your favorite tree . Have a favorite tree that inspires you to write poetry? Watermark Publishing and Hawaii-born author Frances Kakugawa invite keiki in grades K-12 to participate in the “Wordsworth the Poet Poe-TREE Contest.” To enter the contest, kids are invited to follow the example of Wordsworth and write a poem that celebrates their favorite tree. Six prize packages — two per grade division: K-5, 6-8 and 9-12 — will be awarded. Each package includes a copy of the three Wordsworth series books, a child’s gardening tool kit and Koa Legacy Tree from the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative donated by Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods. Download the entry form at bookshawaii.net and click on News and Events. By March 1, send entries marked “ATTN: Wordsworth’s Poe-TREE Contest” via email to wordsworth@bookshawaii.net or to Watermark Publishing, 1088 Bishop St. Suite 310, Hono?lulu, HI?96813. Winners will be notified April 15.

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Broken Promises

A friend once gave me  a magnet for  my refrigerator door  that said: Three things  you must never do and one of them was: Never break a promise to a child.

During my last visit to a school in Hawaii, a teacher approached me with, “I’m a friend of your niece Ann. You must be her Aunty Fran who bought her a set of red suitcases when she graduated from high school.”

I recently heard two stories of  promises  made to children.

Jane ( name changed) received all A’s in elementary school because her grandfather promised  her a new bicycle if she took home an all A report card. She worked hard, thinking of that bicycle throughout those years.  Her grandfather never did buy her that bicycle and something worse than a promise was left broken.

Another woman I will call Susan, was on the honor roll list throughout high school because her father promised her a car for her graduation. It wasn’t a one announcement promise; he reminded her throughout the years of that car. She thought of all the car models she would be driving at graduation. He never did keep that promise and once again, something  irreparable was broken.

These women are now adults and those broken promises are part of their childhood memories.

I was in my early twenties when my niece Ann attended Kindergarten. I told her ” When you graduate from high school, I’m buying you a set of red suitcases.”  Red was always my color of romance ever since I read of that red wagon in the Dick and Jane reading  series in first grade and I wanted to add red to Ann’s life. Ann graduated with honors and I did give her a set of red suitcases which took her away to college. They must be worth something at the antique shop today.

Had I broken that promise, her  friend  would have told me,
“You must be her Aunty Fran who didn’t get the red suitcases you had  promised her when she was five.”

If there’s a run on bicycles and cars tomorrow, some promises are being  glued back again. For Jane and Susan, it’s too late.

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A.K.A. The Invisible Child

Every year, during my teaching years, I played a little mind game  and selected one child  I would  consider  “adopting.” He or she was that child who entered the classroom like a ray of sunshine and never lost that sparkle in the eyes. That child would be easy and loving and laughed a lot and didn’t know what it meant to be unkind to other kids.  That child soaked up everything I said or taught and thought I was a genius. Often, I would think of adopting more than one.

I know what you’re all thinking, that you  would have been that child if you  were in my class.  I always thought I, too, was that incredible child who impressed my teachers so much,  had they played my mental game, they would have chosen me.

Wrong! OMG. I came across my old report cards from grade school through high school.

My grades are C’s and B’s with a few insignificant A’s.

Grade 6: Final grades: all B’s and C’s :

Grade 7: I’m a little smarter with 2 A’s in Eng and Soc Studies but C in Math.

Grade 8: B’s and C’s and a male teacher’s comment:  Frances is a good student and needs only to   participate in class activities.

Things get worse:

Grade 9: B’s and C’s and 1 D in Algebra

Grade 10: B’s and C’s with one A in Biology

Grade 11: All B’s except A in Chorus and Short Hand.

College material? Definitely not!

Now get this: My character traits are worse. I received 1 which is Good, only in neatness and reliability. I guess I combed my hair and my nails were clean. And you could depend on me to run errands.

I got a 4 which is Poor in Initiative and Leadership. Most of my character traits are 3’s. What kind of a kid was I?  Surely not adoptable!

I had no character! I was lazy and showed no effort in my studies. I have one line in my Kapoho: Memoir of a Modern Pompeii that reads: ..I was never really there; I was daydreaming, designing life somewhere else, in New York City, or Hollywood.

You would think I would have day-dreamed with a little more character.

My mother’s signature is on each report card. I guess for as long as she saw 1 for neatness, it was all right.  I didn’t get pregnant and got suspended from class only once which they didn’t know about, so I guess 1 in Neatness made up for that kid that I was…a barely average child with such character flaws.


In all fairness to that kid, Mr. McClellan was the PE teacher who taught Algebra and knew as much Algebra as I did. And he definitely wasn’t as neat as I was…and had

worse handwriting than I did.

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