LA PALMA — The racket behind the door sounded like a herd of elephants stamping its feet in unison--and to music no less.
When that door swung open, nary a pachyderm was in sight. Instead, there was a diverse group of about 30 high school students moving and grooving to gospel singer Kirk Franklin's funky "Stomp," arms lifted, swaying and punching fists in the air.
And stamping their feet. Hard.
In other words, just another day in Ron Hoshi's dance and music class.
When Hoshi, 40, began teaching vocal music at John F. Kennedy High School in La Palma 13 years ago, only 12 students signed up.
"So many kids used to associate choir with being geeky," Hoshi said. "There was a stigma. Even if they did have an interest, if they wanted to be considered cool, they wouldn't be taking choir."
But something changed.
Today, 475--more than half the school's students--are enrolled in one or more of Hoshi's five classes.
"My classes are made up of kids with learning disabilities, cheerleaders, football players, beauty queens, kids who make straight A's and students from all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds," he said.
What's behind the turnaround?
According to students, parents and Hoshi's peers, he is. "Mr. Hoshi makes coming to class fun," said Nikisha Grier, 18. "He's teaching us so many important things. He wants us to make the audience feel what we're singing, and he wants us to feel it as well. He's inspirational, and he does innovative things in class. He's the type of teacher who is not afraid to let us explore all types of music and dance. He gets excited about it too."
Hoshi--who sometimes brings in choreographers or special performers and takes students to concerts, local theater productions and yearly trips to New York to see Broadway shows--says his classes are so popular because he incorporates what kids like.
"I teach a mixture of pop and R&B, and we learn and perform music from movies," he said. "We're currently working on music from 'My Best Friend's Wedding.' "
Still, the class isn't just about having fun.
"We do some things that are on the cutting edge, but I'm also a hard teacher," he said. "Students have to work for their grade and take music theory, do solos and be tested on dance and music that we've introduced in class."
Grier said the best thing about her teacher is that "he really grabs at our emotions."
In turn, they tug at his.
"Some of these kids get so enthusiastic that we actually have to get them to tone it down a bit," Hoshi said, laughing, while watching his students rehearse dance steps. "Aren't they great, though? Look at those moves; check out the passion they put into it. That's what it's all about.
"I tell them that I can teach them the music. I can teach them the dance steps. But only they can add the passion."
Hoshi grew up in San Pedro and once aspired to become a minister of music for a church.
"I got a vocal music scholarship to Long Beach State, and I majored in music education," he said. "But it was around that time that I decided I really wanted to be a teacher, and that I wanted to teach high school because I felt that maybe I could better reach kids at that age, and possibly make a difference in their lives."
He had an example from his own past--Jack Neal, his band teacher at Richard Henry Dana Junior High. "He made music fun, and he inspired me to do what I'm doing today. And I knew that I really didn't have what it took to be a professional singer, in terms of the talent, drive, and determination, although I did really catch the performing bug after I started teaching."
In his spare time, Hoshi sings with the Orange County-based Mitch Hanlon Singers and has been featured in some of their performances at the Hollywood Bowl. He's also sung with Marvin Hamlisch, Nathan Lane and Crystal Bernard.
Some of his students have taken what he's taught them well beyond the classroom. Roxanne Taga, a 1993 Kennedy graduate, landed a starring role as Kim two years ago in the national touring production of "Miss Saigon"; BMG Records signed Grier as a solo artist and she's working on her debut album; no release date has been set.
Heady stuff for high school kids, sure.
But it's especially exhilarating for a teacher, who, like many other arts educators, has had to face budget cuts and deal with the question, almost on a daily basis, of where the money will come from to continue to teach students who yearn to be immersed in the arts.
Hoshi doesn't receive much from the school to spend on his programs--just $700 this year. Even the most creative teacher can't stretch $700 far enough to meet the needs of 475 students. So Hoshi has found other ways to get the job done.
"I can tell you just about everything you'd ever want to know about fund-raising," he said.
From spaghetti dinners to candy sales and car washes to pizza bashes, Hoshi and his classes, with a lot of help from the school's Perfect Harmony Booster Club, have done it all.