A class of kindergarteners at Bellview Elementary traded in their names for new Hawaiian monikers and dressed in leis and grass skirts during a three-week study of the island state.

Their teacher, Matthew Fujikawa, grew up in Hawaii and used his background to introduce his students to a new language and tradition.

"It means a lot to me because I can share my own culture with them," he said. "I'm really proud that they're having fun learning about it."

On Wednesday, Fujikawa helped his students construct their own paper ukuleles after weeks of teaching them songs that introduced Hawaiian words for numbers, colors and parts of the body.

In the past three weeks, he also translated his students' names into Hawaiian and taught them basic words, such as kumu for teacher, helped them construct clay models of volcanoes and make their own leis and grass skirts, and taught them about Hawaiian royalty and goddesses.

On Friday, the class will learn the basics of hula dancing from a friend of Fujikawa's who also grew up in Hawaii.

Fujikawa is of Japanese decent and part of his lessons included teaching students that Hawaii is more than just a vacation spot, with several different ethnicities living together, including Europeans, Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos and Samoans.

He moved from Hawaii to Ashland in 2001 to attend Southern Oregon University, where he discovered how foreign Hawaiian culture can seem to mainland Americans. For example, when he wished classmates a happy Boys' Day and Girls' Day &

holidays celebrated in Hawaii &

the most common response was a blank stare.

While he was growing up, a Hawaiian teacher visited his elementary school classroom a few times a week to teach cultural lessons, and while he was in middle school, Hawaiian history was incorporated into the social studies curriculum.

Now, he is proud that he has something unique to share with his students, especially with his own diverse class.

"My looking different from a typical teacher in Ashland, I think it's really cool," he said. "I can share that with my students."

Bellview Principal Christine McCollom said she had heard students practicing their Hawaiian words and was surprised how much they remembered.

"It's pretty impressive," she said. "It's great that he could share his culture with his kids."

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