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South Jordan Journal

Making birthdays memorable: Welby principal strums ukulele and sings for students

Apr 12, 2024 12:14PM ● By Julie Slama

Welby Elementary Principal Aaron Ichimura plays ukulele and sings happy birthday to each student during the year. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Welby Elementary third grader Alexander Gray watched as his principal plucked the strings on a ukulele.

It was a special song just for him that day.

“He plays and sings for each of us,” he said. “That’s really cool.” 

Welby Principal Aaron Ichimura was on his 48th rendition of Happy Birthday that particular day, personalizing it for each child’s birthday that month. 

“Generally, the kids love it, and it gives me a chance to have an opportunity to talk with each of them individually,” he said.

Playing ukulele was a skill that he learned a few years back.

“I learned how to play when I was in elementary school in Hawaii; we learned the chords to ‘Mele Kalikimaka.’ When I was principal at Elk Meadows (Elementary), the third grade would play and I’d join them as they practiced, so we played together. That was their song they would perform at the holiday sing-along,” Ichimura said.

He polished up his ukulele skills when his daughter was learning the instrument about 10 years ago. Then, he introduced singing it to kids for birthdays first at Heartland Elementary, then Elk Meadows before coming to Welby.

“All principals wish kids a happy birthday. When I was teaching, I remember playing my guitar with them. I switched to playing the ukulele to sing happy birthday to students when I was principal,” he said. 

Ichimura said it’s more than just a fun way to wish pupils happy birthday.

“This is guaranteed that every month, I get to have some positive interactions with individual students,” he said. “When kids come down to the office, I don’t want them to feel because they’re in my office that it’s a horrible thing. It can be positive, and we can talk about good things that are going on. I remember when I was growing up, my parents would say you don’t want to be sent to the principal’s office. I’m wanting to change that so it’s not a scary place anymore. Kids’ interaction with the principal can be a good, positive, uplifting thing. This activity lends to that to happen.”

Ichimura was singing to each child in the school cafeteria near special treats and pencils for the birthday kids.

“The PTA is so good when they see something happening, they try to help. When I came here, they said. ‘let’s get some volunteers, we can decorate a table for you.’ Back in the day, I would have all the students with birthdays sit at the same table, but then when COVID hit, we changed that. Now, we’re just doing it this way so they’re each getting their own song,” he said.

The PTA generates a list of students for Ichimura to sing to and even incorporates the summer month birthdays.

“They know whose birthday it is and sometimes the kids forget about their birthday treats, they remind about it, they’ll come back. That’s why it’s nice to just be able to wish them personally a happy birthday,” he said. “Even some of the staff will want to celebrate their birthday with us.” λ