Nishi Retiring: Leaves Legacy of Shaping Student Leaders
June 12, 2018
Jean Nishi has been at Nānākuli High and Intermediate School for as long as many students, faculty, and community members can remember. More commonly known around the Nānākuli community as Ms. Nishi, she has given much of her heart and soul to the students of NHIS. Nishi has dedicated most of her career to being the student activities coordinator; before she taught both English and Japanese Language. At the end of August 2018, Ms. Nishi will be retiring and end her 30 plus years of teaching.
“So I turned 62, I can collect social security. I guess it’s mostly because there are things in my personal life that need attention now and I feel like I’m in a race against time. I need to get stuff in order—my mom is 91 years old and she’s got dementia, my dad is going to be 92 next month and he’s trying his best to take care of my mom too, but it’s hard for him to be a caregiver when he’s kind of needy himself. So it’s that and I have grandchildren that live in Vegas and I don’t get to see them much. So it’s just a lot of things I need to do in my personal life, but it’s totally not being unhappy here. That’s what’s going to make it so hard to leave. Because I love my job, I love what I do, I love Nanakuli, I love the students, I love the teachers, it’s just a great place to be. I wouldn’t be transferring to somewhere else, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be, but it’s just in my personal life, I can’t do—I can’t work full time and do what I gotta do,” said Nishi.
THE EARLY YEARS
As a young child, Nishi had a lot of experiences in being in different places. Throughout her childhood, Nishi moved around the central areas of Oahu and became accustomed to being able to adapt to new places.
“I grew up all over the place; I was born and lived in Nu’uanu until I was I guess elementary school age and then I moved to Kaimuki. And I attended Liholiho Elementary School and Kaimuki Intermediate, and Kaimuki High School. And then our family moved to Moanalua and I should have transferred to Farrington (High School) but I didn’t want to have to start all over again with making friends when I was a Sophomore, so I just commuted every day from Moanalua to Kaimuki,” said Nishi.
FINDING HER PASSION
From a young age, Nishi dreamed about becoming a teacher. From playing teacher with her siblings at home, to eventually becoming one was a dream come true for her. Nishi attended the University of Hawaii Manoa to get her bachelor’s and master’s in teaching. Although she was swayed from the career throughout college, she continued to follow her passion.
“Okay so, I wanted to be a teacher from when I was little. You know how when you play with your sisters, I played school. I always played school, and I was the teacher or whatever, but we always played with my sisters school and I wanted to be a teacher. And even when I was older and I was in college to be a teacher everybody said, ‘Oh there’s no teaching jobs! You’re just going to end up being a sales clerk at Liberty House—’that’s what it was called back then. And I said, ‘I’m just going to try,’”
PROVING THEM WRONG
Nishi first found herself teaching at Washington Intermediate School where she first experienced the challenges of teaching. However, as time progressed the fate of one special call led her to Nānākuli High and Intermediate School. Although persuaded to not take the job, she wanted to challenge herself in going to a place where she had not been before.
“I got a job at Washington Intermediate School. And the kids over there—they were really naughty, they were naughty. It would be like, ‘You gotta turn that radio off, it’s class time.’ ‘What Miss?! You going make me?’ (It would be) like that. And I thought, ‘Oh no, what did I get myself into?’ But then they contacted me and they said that there was a position at Nānākuli (High and Intermediate School). And my family all said, ‘Are you sure? Cause you know, get bullet holes in the traffic signs and the stop signs.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to prove to them that I can handle.’ So I came out here and I did get tested by the kids, they wanted to see how far they could get with me. But after awhile I guess they realized that I was here to stay and that I cared about them, and then they stopped picking on me—but they were driving me crazy in the beginning,” said Nishi.
Nishi stepped out of the classroom as a classroom teacher and became NHIS’ SAC (Student Activities Coordinator) in the early 2000’s. Along the way she overcame challenges and learned many things from coordinating many of the events enjoyed by the students, faculty, and community of Nanakuli.
“I would say a challenge would be, you have to juggle numerous things at the same time. You can’t say, okay I’m going to work on May Day Ho’olaulea and then when that is done I’m going to work on Military Appreciation Luncheon or Awards Night. You gotta work on multiple things at the same time, you just have to be juggling constantly and also having to work with students, teachers, community, admin; you gotta coordinate with so many people,” said Nishi.
Nishi tearfully added, “Wow, you know I just feel that I learned so much from the students. They are the most—I mean they’re so honest, you think that they wouldn’t be, but they’re real—they’re brutally honest. I learned a lot from them. Just seeing how they interact with new people too.”
MEMORIES TO LAST A LIFETIME
Being a teacher and a SAC Nishi also gained many memories that not only bring her joy, but also life lessons and examples that she will take from the students and community of Nānākuli.
“So this is a really nice story—so I guess a parent and her new spouse brought in her child. And this girl, you could tell that she was from town. Just how she looked and everything and she looked like she was really afraid to be here. And I told the parents, “Just go I can take her to her classroom.” So this girl I’m walking with her to class and as soon as we walk in the door I said, “Excuse me, we have a new student.” All the kids, they turned and they look and they go, “Oh sit by me! Come sit by me!” They just welcome; and that’s what I notice here at Nanakuli, they welcome people with open arms,” said Nishi joyfully.
Nishi also added, “And before I used to sell ice cream here, before we had that wellness policy where we can’t sell all kinds of stuff. But we used to sell ice cream and students would come in and a student might have a ten dollar bill and he’ll go, “What you like? What you like? What you like?” And he would treat all his friends, even though that means he’s not going to have money the rest of the week. But they are just so generous, so giving. I have learned so much about people here at Nanakuli, just really genuine people.”
THANK YOU MS. NISHI
Blythe Emler band and ukulele teacher: “For me, it’s working with her during Homecoming. Coordinating the band with her at the parade and watching for her cues from the press box during the halftime court presentation. It won’t be the same working that event without her for sure.”
Jackie Ku class advisor: “Oh my god. I’ve known Ms. Nishi since I was a teenager, she was a Japanese teacher here at Nānākuli High School, so I graduated ‘87 so that’s how long I’ve known Ms. Nishi. And now that I came here back in 2004 to work here she was the leading advisor for student government. In the beginning, it was kind of hard to understand policies when it came to student activities, so I got to learn a lot from Ms. Nishi when it came to student activities because this is where I’m at this year. It’s saddening that she’s leaving and I made her cry because I brought it up the other day, and she’s very soft and I just couldn’t help it because I’m going to miss her. I mean who can fill her shoes? And I’m gonna be honest with you, there is no one on this campus that can fill those shoes or what Ms. Nishi has done because she has such a big heart for these kids. And there is no one; I’ve been here long enough, 14 years, I’ve been here long enough to know that there is no one that can fit the needs of a student activities coordinator.”
Jasmine Kamana`o Senior: “In my opinion, she is very caring and extremely organized. She has love for her students in Student Government. I am truly going to miss her telling me how I can improve on things, showing that she really cares about the person I will become in the future or her giving me snacks when I accomplish things. I’m truly going to miss that sense of having a family member at school”
Rosalie Hobbs former Student Body President: “I remember walking into ETL for the first time, I transferred schools at the begging of Junior year and got placed in her class at default, as soon as I walked in and sat down she asked me if I wanted to be Vice President for Student Body before she even asked my name. She played a big role in my decision to go into political science after making me the HSSC rep. She taught me to focus on what I can and have achieved. She’d still celebrate something even though we made mistakes on the way because she already knew we’d work to improve next time. She has a special way of being both motivational and empathetic and being a SAC truly was her natural calling in my eyes.
Irene Ohashi retired NHIS teacher: “I remember early in her career, Mrs. Nishi was willing to go back to college to pick up credits in Japanese language in order to offer the courses at NHIS. Because of her outstanding efforts, the Accreditation team gave her commendations and made our school look good.”
As Nishi moves on from NHIS she has some advice for the new SAC and has some final thank you’s and advice that she’d like to leave behind.
“Don’t procrastinate, get organized, just call me if you need help, I’m still gonna be on island. Try to remember the traditions, I would say that. This school, this community, they value traditions so I would say try your best to keep the traditions alive,” said Nishi.
“I would just like to tell them to keep working hard, always remember where you’re from, and make everybody in Nanakuli your family, your community proud. Just be good people,” tearfully said Nishi.
Faculty and Staff:
“I just want to say thanks for all your support, made a lot of friends and a whole bunch of them have also moved on too, they’ve retired or some people have gone their separate ways, but just thank you for taking me under their wings and helping me to learn the ropes and supporting me. I have a lot of good memories thanks to the students and the teachers,” said Nishi.
“Thank you so much—thank you Nanakuli, for everything,” said Nishi.