The talent erupting out of Honoka‘a hasn’t gone unnoticed. Fifteen years ago an anonymous donor gave the school $150,000, specifying that half of it fund the much-lauded music program. Washburn stocked up on sound systems, keyboards, drum kits — the works. In 1998 the Hawai‘i House of Representatives presented Washburn with a resolution praising the Honoka‘a Jazz Band for its community involvement. And in 2010 the national spotlight shone on Honoka‘a when the jazz band won a National Association of Music Merchants award and appeared on National Public Radio’s From the Top.
Last year, though, was the banner year: Washburn’s class was recognized with two of the world’s most prestigious awards. First, Washburn was named a Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction for his inspirational teaching. Then, to top things off, the school won a Grammy. Washburn had sent a sample recording of his students to the Grammy Foundation, and the judges liked what they heard: Honoka‘a was one of thirty-six schools chosen nationwide as a Grammy Signature School. Today a larger-than-life check from the foundation for $5,500 hangs in the band room above the xylophone.
“It’s kind of crazy that there’s a Grammy in little Honoka‘a,” says Hiraoka. Washburn agrees and smiles as he admits, “I kind of blew my own mind with that.”