What happens when you have three educators living in one home, each holding down a demanding job in the public schools, who also possess a love for podcasts and a shared cultural identity?

The first and only podcast, so far, dedicated to the subject of teaching in Hawaii.

“Maestros Vibe,” a podcast that launched in September, is the creation of three Hawaii Department of Education teachers who are housemates in Kailua-Kona on Hawaii Island.

The first part of the title means “teacher” in Spanish. All three of the podcasters are Latinx and all speak the language. The show covers a range of topics relevant to public schools here, including the teacher shortage, the school to prison pipeline, social and emotional learning and the cultural framework known as Na Hopena A’o.

“The whole reasoning behind this podcast was to elevate the discussion around schools — to make school cool to talk about,” said Kevin Argueta, a fifth grade teacher at Kahakai Elementary in Kona, and one-third of Maestros Vibe.

Karina Hernandez, Juan Espinal and Kevin Argueta, left to right, record in their home studio. Courtesy Lia-Lucine Cary via Maestro Vibes

Argueta, along with his two co-hosts, Karina Hernandez and Juan Espinal, is a Teach For America alum. They each came to the islands from different places — Los Angeles for Hernandez, New York for Espinal and Virginia for Argueta — choosing to stay and teach in Hawaii after their two-year TFA commitment had ended.

Argueta, 28, and Espinal, 29, arrived in Hawaii seven years ago. Hernandez, 29, came five years ago.

The idea for the podcast took root last year, when the teachers were approaching the end of summer break. They were standing around their kitchen, discussing various podcasts they were listening to and talking story about their lives as educators.

“That sparked the idea of wanting to interact more with the community members outside our classroom,” said Hernandez, a ninth and 10th grade English teacher at Konawaena High. “We felt podcasting was an outlet to do that, and it has been.”

All of the hosts plan to stay in Hawaii. Though none of them planned to go into teaching from a young age, they discuss their commitment to the profession and ties to the culture here and the community.

Talking Identity

Recorded and produced in the basement of a home they share with three other people, “Maestros Vibe” draws upon the hosts’ classroom experience, familiarity with DOE practices and identities as Latinx individuals.

Episodes can be listened to via SoundCloud or Apple Podcasts.

“We are three Latinx teachers whose identity is really important to us and we understand identity is important to our students and also our educators,” said Espinal, a Fifth grade teacher at Konawaena Elementary. “It really became something that brought us together, and that’s where the name comes from.”

The trio expounds upon broad topics in a contemplative and reflective manner, without discussing specific interactions with students, parents or administrators in each episode’s roughly 45-50 minute duration.

So if an episode comes across as more thematic and broad rather than narrative driven, it’s because the show is as much a vehicle for self-reflection for its hosts as it is a window into the world of a DOE educator.

“Teaching is really hard,” Espinal said. “Learning how to teach takes a lot of discussion with other people who are going through it. Just by nature of being exposed to different experiences and different people, the conversation always lends itself to a more macro level.”

For example, the trio has discussed the challenges facing rural Hawaii communities that rely on temporary TFA teachers or the purpose of the cultural DOE framework known as Na Hopena A’o.

They’ve produced 13 episodes since the podcast’s launch. The hosts hope to feature guests like fellow teachers on future episodes. As far as picking topics to discuss, the trio meets to brainstorm various subjects, adding them to a shared Google spreadsheet.

About a week before airtime, they’ll narrow in on a topic, sharing links via the Google document. For the most part, the conversation they’re recording is the first time the trio is talking about that topic in depth.

Their audience is small but growing.

“It’s people we know, and people who know people we know,” said Argueta. “We’ve had some teachers reach out. I think it’s still new to people. Not everyone listens to podcasts the way we consume podcasts.”

One event earlier this year did lead to a sizable bump in their listenership, doubling it from about 50 plays per episode to around 100.

That was the “Spark & Inspire” event co-hosted by TFA and the nonprofit HawaiiKidsCAN, highlighting innovative ideas hatched by Hawaii public school teachers.

The event was attended by educational leaders like DOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and Board of Education Chairwoman Catherine Payne.

Maestros Vibe received a $2,000 grant through that event, which the hosts have used to purchase new audio equipment. Hopefully, they can use some of the money to rent out studio space so they don’t have to cram into their small basement for future recordings.

When asked who else they’d love to have on as a guest, they cited Gov. David Ige and Kishimoto.

“I would love to speak to as many people who influence education as much as possible,” Espinal said. “It’s really important to bring the conversation closer.”

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