Special Education & Curriculum StudiesDegree:
BEd Exceptional Students and Elementary Education (ESEE), MEd Curriculum Studies, STEMS² (Student)
***Bella Finau-Faumuina is the 2019 Milken Teachers of Promise award winner for Hawai‘i State
What was the best part about your placement?
The best part was getting to know my mentor teacher who is a friend to this day and who allowed me the space to grow while providing me with direction and feedback. I was embraced as an educator, even when I was still a pre-service teacher, and I was allowed to express the creativity and freedom I needed to test out my ideas with the best of supports. I loved my placement, made many friends, and still feel a connection to the place.
How did you become interested in special education?
I have a son who was born with hearing loss in both ears. As a parent with a child with learning differences, trying to navigate the public education special education system was so confusing. My other son, who is bright, articulate, and talented, struggled to do well in school, which was also devastating. Both of these trying situations pushed me to investigate special education, which turned out to be a perfect fit for me as an educator.
When I discovered pursuing a degree in special education would place me in direct contact with students and their families, I knew it was the route I wanted to take. My decision to become a teacher was so I could positively impact the lives of students, and I knew special education would allow me to do that in a real way. There was a disproportionate number of Kānaka ʻŌiwi students in special education in our public schools, so becoming a special education teacher allowed me to directly assist my people in a potentially significant way.
Did you always know you wanted to become a teacher?
No! Absolutely not! I was actually opposed to even going to college. Then I became a parent to children with special needs, and that changed my mind and heart. I'm so thankful that happened for me; otherwise, I'd never have found my true calling.
How has the COE supported you along the way?
The close supportive relationships I have developed with my professors and instructors have helped me feel confident in the classroom as a new teacher. I have acquired a network of mentors I can count on even beyond graduation, which is priceless to me as I begin my master’s program in curriculum studies.
The COE continually reaches out to me to let me know what opportunities are available in order to help me further my professional career. They continue to be excellent at communicating the many ways in which I can stay connected and get involved.
In what ways do you hope to make a difference in the field of education?
I hope to invoke change in Hawaiʻi's public schools by advocating for and implementing place-based, project-based, and culture-based curriculum in order to address the needs of our entire diverse student population in Hawai‘i’s public schools. This path that I have chosen to take has not only fulfilled me professionally and personally, but has made incredible positive changes in the academic, social, and cultural lives of my students and their families. Taking my students out into our surrounding community (like our weekly visits to a neighborhood farm) and bringing the community into our space (such as a local digital media crew) has created incredibly deep, rich, social, emotional, and cultural experiences that are not only more relevant and connected to our students lives, but beneficial to student and family engagement with the school. This strengthened sense of belonging makes for a healthier, happier, more cohesive community.