Each Wednesday afternoon, when Honolulu Museum of Art School teaching assistant Tomoki Kobayashi’s class ends, he quickly tidies up, then blasts off to the Makiki skate park. Far from feeling drained by the 80 students from Queen Ka‘ahumanu Elementary School that visit the Art School each week, Tomoki is pumped up, and uses skateboarding as a release. “It’s really enjoyable work because I get energy from being around kids,” he says. 

Tomoki has found it so inspiring that he has decided to make education his career. Just two years ago, when he was a senior at McKinley High School, the Art School selected Tomoki and a few other McKinley art students to assist with its (now defunct) Free Sundays program. He started out by helping with art activities, and filmed and edited videos of the day’s events. Today he’s pursuing a degree in elementary education at the University of Hawai‘i–Mānoa. When he graduates in two years, Tomoki hopes to become an instructor at the Art School.

“It’s nice to know that I am part of [the students’] development. I see kids struggling with projects, and then they’ll figure something out and be really happy after. Watching that process brings me joy,” he says.

This Spring semester, his fifth at the Art School, Tomoki is assisting with a class of ten fourth graders, a relatively calm group compared to his Exploring Art class with 20 kindergarteners last fall. “That was pretty wild,” he says. Fortunately, students at all levels tend to like Tomoki, who looks stylish and fun in his short-brimmed bucket hat, long-sleeve turquoise button up, and high-water pants.

For the younger groups, Tomoki primarily assists with problem solving through art, which fits into the goals of his teaching assistantship, which is funded by the Stupski Family Fund of the Hawai‘i Community Foundation. “This program is actually a study to see if art education actually has an effect on academics for kids,” explains Tomoki.

For older student groups, like his current fourth graders, he gets to push the study deeper. “Two weeks ago I got an object from the lending collection, a wooden carving from the Philippines of a man riding a horse. We were supposed to look at that and then draw a picture with that in it, and then write a story about that. That was an assessment of their creativity and how well they can articulate something.”

Tomoki found his Art School work to be a nice complement to his own hobbies, such as skateboarding and making skate films. “Documenting friends skating and working at the Art School are similar in that they are both things I enjoy, because I feel as if I’m part of the growth or experience of somebody.” Just as he motivates art students in his classes, he finds himself motivating fellow skaters by filming them and sharing their talents. For the past two years he has had submissions accepted into the HI Sk8 Films showcase at the Doris Duke Theatre. His 2015 film, Dumb Youth Skate Party, evolved into an installation for the Art School’s Nanogallery, and was included in the 2016 all-staff exhibition.

The aspiring educator credits Art School director Vince Hazen for the changes he has undergone while working as a teaching assistant. “He’s always pushing me to make art or do something that expresses myself, and that’s always been great to know, that someone who’s my boss is so supportive. I don’t think I would be the same way if I wasn’t connected to the Art School.”