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BYUH hosts the first ever Educator Appreciation Concert to celebrate overcoming the challenges of teaching during the pandemic

Kekela Miller is doing the hula wearing an orange dress with leaves, beaded jewelry and a flower haku on her head with other women behind her doing it too.
Kekela Miller doing the hula at the Educator Appreciation Concert on May 28, 2021.

Hundreds of educators were sitting in silence, the Cannon Activity Center completely dark except for the lights shining on the stage where musician Josh Tatofi was sitting. As the first sounds of Hawaiian music reverberated in the air, the audience swayed in their seats, the evidence of their mask-hidden smiles found in the wrinkles at the corners of their eyes.

As the second song began, several educators wandered down to the floor beneath the stage. They smiled with glistening eyes as they hula danced to the sounds of home.

For Esita Krystal Fakatava Foliaki, a BYU–Hawaii alumna from Tonga and fourth grade teacher at Sunset Beach Elementary School, her first-year teaching was also the year the world was rocked because of the pandemic.

She said everything was different from what she was taught in school and was learning a lot of new things on top of being a new teacher.

The week before the end of the school year, she said she went to retrieve her items from her box and looked through them during recess. It was then she found an invitation to the educator appreciation concert held on Friday, May 28, 2021.

Educators from all around the North Shore gathered at the CAC to enjoy a concert held in their honor. Josh Tatofi and Kapena sang.

Shirley “Kura” Tovey, coordinator of student development at Seasider Sports & Activities, was involved in planning and organizing the concert. In her seven years of working at BYUH, she said this is the first event put on specifically for educators.

Sia Afeaki Tonga, who greeted the guests at the concert, said educators are “some of the most underappreciated people we know. … Because of the year we’ve had, I’m so incredibly blessed to be a part of this night in a small way.” She made sure to thank even those responsible for groundskeeping for their hard work.

“That Friday, our grades were in and we had sent report cards out. That was the very first time I actually didn’t have to worry about school-related things,” Foliaki said, emphasizing how much she appreciated being able to destress and have a good time with people who endured challenges similar to hers during the school year.

“It was a sweet thing for me to be able to go out and enjoy Kapena and Josh Tatofi, especially because I grew up listening to Kapena and, since moving to Hawaii, I’ve learned to appreciate Hawaiian music and love Tatofi’s music.”

She said the event meant a lot to her because she knew “someone went out of their way. They didn’t have to do it, and they created such an amazing event and invited tons of educators just to show them they are appreciated.”

People in a crowd hold up their phones with flashlights on them.
Audience members holding up their flashlights on their phones at the Educator Appreciation Concert on May 28, 2021.

She said it was also meaningful because she knew those who helped organize the event might not even have children at Sunset Elementary, but they still invited the staff there. “It just made me appreciate it a lot more,” she explained.

Tovey said, “It was such a successful event. I’m seeing comments on Facebook where the teachers felt like they were appreciated and posting videos of what a fun evening they had.… Someone mentioned what a way to end the crazy year of COVID.”

Brandyn Akana, head of Sports & Student Activities from Molokai, said, “My favorite part was seeing how excited our educators were to be in attendance. It was appreciation for them. We wanted to recognize them and honor them. It was great to see the turnout of the teachers from our community to join the event. That was the highlight for me.”

Rallying together

Upon arriving to the concert, the educators were greeted with a path lined by students leading to a balloon arch, dancing and loud music.

Tovey explained, “We also had a deejay help at the entrance for the welcoming part. His name is Vili Toilolo, and he did not want to be paid. He just wanted to show his appreciation, so he did it for free. He was so good because he was [also] the emcee, he was welcoming the teachers and playing the music while people were coming in.”

Tovey said it was originally the BYUH President’s Council who had the idea to put together the educator appreciation concert. She said Brandyn Akana was the main person assigned to organize the event, so he delegated tasks and the team helped.

Akana said they made an effort to involve BYUH students in the event, especially when it came to ushering and check in. He said they are planning on doing more events like this in the future.

Tovey said Akana delegated tasks to several departments. Campus Safety & Security, Admissions, Residential Life, Media Productions, technicians, the CAC events management committee, Facilities Management, New Student Orientation and the Seasider Sports & Activities team all helped organize and put on the concert.

In addition, she said community members donated decorations, food and their time for the event. She said the Kahuku High School girls’ volleyball team were the ones lining the path to greet the teachers. “I thought that was beautiful. It was like the icing on the cake.”

Sharing mahalo

Educators from each institution were greeted separately, including Kaawa, Hauula, Laie, Kahuku and Sunset elementary schools, as well as Kahuku Intermediate and High School and BYU–Hawaii.

Tonga announced the concert as a way of saying mahalo to the educators for all they’ve had to endure during the pandemic. The first performer, Josh Tatofi, is her nephew. She said, “I’m so glad he was able to fit us in because you are important, and what you do for our children is so important.”

Josh Tatofi sitting playing the guitar and singing on stage with two other players sitting on each side of him with yellow lights behind them and plants in front of them.
Josh Tatofi playing at the Educator Appreciation Concert on May 28, 2021.

Before Tatofi was welcomed on stage, BYUH President John Kauwe shared an opening statement. Upon his arrival to the stage, several rows of audience members stood up and performed the chant “Hiki Mai” to welcome him.

Tovey explained at BYUH, “We usually use that chant to welcome newcomers [and invite them] to come and learn from ancestors.”

After the chant, President Kauwe expressed gratitude for those who prepared the event. “As I’ve come here during the pandemic, I’ve experienced great challenges and sacrifices like you have. … I’m so grateful for the staff and the ideas they had to honor you.”

He said despite the challenges the past year brought, they can enjoy the “generous offering of talent” from the performers.

Tonga then welcomed Tatofi to the stage, saying to the audience he “started singing as soon as he could talk” and has won several awards, such as album of the year, male vocalist of the year and favorite entertainer. She said he was also nominated for a Grammy. He was joined on stage by band members Travis Kaka and Laupepa Letuli.

“I do love him personally. … I’m proud he’s my nephew. All the awards could never amount to his humility and love for family and God,” Tonga expressed.

Tatofi only made it through one song before a few members of the audience made their way to the floor in front of the stage to dance. The dancing continued throughout the night, whether it was a slow or a fast-paced hula.

At one point, Tatofi noticed a particularly enthusiastic dancer. At the end of the song, he joked, “The song I was singing and the song she was dancing to was almost the same song.”

People wearing orange vests dancing around in a circle with blue light around them with a black background.
Audience members dancing at the Educator Appreciation Concert on May 28, 2021.

Also performing during the concert were members of Kekela Miller's local hula halau. The group performed during several songs both Tatofi and Kapena sang.

At the close of Tatofi’s performance, he expressed his feelings to the educators. “Thank you for doing what you guys do all year round. … We could never do what you guys do. … Keep our teachers in your prayers.”

The audience proceeded to thank Tatofi with a standing ovation. Tonga exclaimed, “Look at this, Josh. Everybody is standing up for you. Your music, your voice is a gift. Truly a gift. And I can’t think of a more deserving audience than the educators and the staff who are here tonight. … He made it all the way to the CAC to honor all of you.”

She then encouraged community members to support local music on all digital platforms.

Rocking the house

While Kapena prepared to perform, the educators viewed two videos thanking them for their hard work.

The first video opened with these words on the screen: "Dear teachers, sometimes it may seem like people have forgotten how important you really are. Your creativity, your dedication, your passion. It’s time for a reminder."

The video then highlighted how teachers help children gain confidence and a passion for learning and reminded the educators they are appreciated “even when it seems like no one is watching or people have forgotten just how special teachers really are.”

The second video displayed several clips of all of the trials faced by the world in 2020 and the impact it had on teachers, such as Zoom calls “with a wall of black screens.” However, the video then took a hopeful turn and commended educators for their perseverance.

“Right now, there is a student who feels known and heard because of you,” it said in the video. “There are students who will remember you forever as someone who was there for them in these dark times. You are changing the world even when you can’t see it. So, thank you.”

After that, Kapena was then welcomed onto the stage with applause by the audience.

Kapena playing the ukulele and singing to a microphone on stage with purple/pink smoke behind him.
Kapena playing at the Educator Appreciation Concert on May 28, 2021.

One of Kapena’s singers, Kelly Boy, thanked God for the opportunity to perform for the educators with his family. “It’s an indescribable feeling,” he said, referring to seeing his children carry on the “Kapena legacy.” Others on stage included Kelly Boy’s two daughters, Kalena and Lilo, and his son, Kapena.

A few audience members couldn’t help but dance in the area in front of the stage. In fact, for the last song, Akana said they played a traditional Hawaiian farewell song that brought almost the entire audience onto the floor, holding hands and swaying.

Tovey explained, “We could not control the crowds at the end because every time you hear that, everybody needs to hold hands above their heads and sing that song.”

She said she used to sing that song at a Hawaiian parent-child program. She said the song brings “the mana, spirit, unity, love and care for everybody.”

Akana said Josh Tatofi and Kapena were selected to perform at the concert because they are local. One of Josh Tatofi’s band members is from Laie, and Kapena is from Kaneohe. “That’s why both groups were selected, and we requested to have them.”

Tovey said she enjoyed how Josh Tatofi’s songs are used for hula dances and Kapena knows a variety of songs from Polynesian cultures. They “recognize different Polynesian cultures and they did rock the house.”

Although it was a lot of work to put on the event, Tovey said, “It was rewarding to see our educators being appreciated and recognized. … It was a great boost for all the teachers to see they are valued, even though we don’t see them face to face.

She said, “It was amazing, I really enjoyed it. The next day I had a backache, but it was worth it. Everybody was so happy and were dancing.”

See more photos from the event on Ke Alaka'i's Facebook page here.