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Lessons in a Whale’s Belly


Captain Mark leads an imaginative journey around the island to a group of first and fourth graders. Photo by Jessica Ahles

Keiki had a whale of a time learning about humpback whales and their place in the environment Friday. But while most have only seen the great creatures from a distance, students at Kilohana School got up close and personal, climbing into the belly of a 36-foot inflatable humpback, softly rocking to soothing whale sounds and taking an imaginative ride around island’s waters.

“My name is Captain Mark and I’ll be your tour guide today,” Storybook Theater Executive Director Mark Jeffers said as he saluted to Kilohana School’s second grade class. “Today we are going to learn how whales are like people.”

Back by popular demand and part of a statewide tour, Jeffers’ traveling classroom stopped on Molokai last week, bringing an entertaining and interactive learning performance to children pre-kindergarten to fifth grade from a variety of schools. Keiki laughed, ooh-ed and ahh-ed as Jeffers took them on a journey of the imagination.

“I was wonderful,” said Teon Sawyer, second grade education assistant at Kilohana School. “I think the kids enjoyed going into the whale and listening to the whale sounds the most.”

The performance included speaking to whales by listening to recordings of their sounds, learning anatomy by practicing breathing out of a pretend blow hole, as well as sang songs and recited a new pledge of allegiance to learn about the whales’ place in the ocean and the importance to care for the environment.

“I pledge allegiance to the earth and to all the life that she supports. One planet, in our care, irreplaceable, with sustenance and respect for all,” said a group of first and fourth graders, repeating after Jeffers during a morning performance.

Founder of the Storybook Theater, a nonprofit performing arts group for children based on Kauai, Jeffers studied early education and drama at UH Manoa. Working with Australian fabric artist Evelyn Roth, who designed the nylon sea creatures in 1997, Jeffers has taken the inflatable whales on tour across the state and throughout the Midwest.

Jeffers said he chose to teach about whales because of their prevalence to the islands and the excitement they bring to those who view them. He said he sees whales as an important subject because they’re challenged in today’s environment including navigating through heaps of rubbish accumulating in the ocean as well as the effects of climate change.

“Education is what changes things,” said Jeffers. “…It takes a generation to bring about change and if we start with education and focus on education, then things will change and become how we want to see [the planet].”

In the future, Jeffers hopes to take his performance across the Pacific, always involving lessons encouraging keiki to problem-solve and achieve what others might see as impossible.

“They don’t know that they can’t do it,” said Jeffers. “If you tell them, ‘Oh, you can’t talk to whales,’ then they believe you. Leave the possibility open to them so when they grow up, they’ll do it. That’s the idea behind imagination.”


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