Aloha Kumu Cohort*

Jerzelle Ruiz-Cabilao

"I am a military brat. I was born in Hawaiʻi, but my family moved around a lot – from California to Panama to Washington."




Curriculum Studies

Related Degrees

  • MEd, Curriculum Studies: Aloha Aina Education & Leadership

What drew you to the program?

I wanted to be a part of the Aloha Kumu program because it emphasizes the importance of educating and supporting Native Hawaiian students within the community. I live and work in the Kapolei community. The Kapolei Complex schools service three Native Hawaiian Homesteads (Malu’ohai, Kaupe’a and Kanehili) in this area. Most of the Native Hawaiian students are transplants from other parts of O’ahu or other homesteads. This program focuses on how to build connections with your students through place-based curriculum, learning the mo’olelo of the area, and other activities. Another reason that I was interested in the Aloha Kumu program is that it focuses on teachers working together from the same area. I may not teach along the Waiʻanae Coast, but I am able to connect with the other teachers when sharing about our students’ successes and hardships.

What is your current position and how long have you been there?

I am a sixth grade Inclusion Special Education teacher at a multi-track school, Kapolei Middle. I co-teach with my Language Arts and Math general education teachers in the general education setting with my special needs students. This is my fourth year teaching at the school. It is very fast-paced, but I have adjusted to a multi-track school schedule and love it!

What is your philosophy of teaching?

Throughout my twelve years of teaching special needs students, my teaching philosophy has evolved based on different teaching experiences and co-teaching within an inclusion setting. My goal is to educate Native Hawaiian students with learning disabilities. I have found that addressing the unique learning styles of individual students, creating a positive learning environment, developing rigor and positive discipline, and establishing relevance and relationships are very important in teaching. I am dedicated to teaching lifelong learners, and I believe that every child can learn regardless of a disability.

Describe your road to becoming an educator.

My interest in teaching began when I volunteered at Waikīkī elementary school as a reading tutor fifteen years ago. I was fulfilling a community service obligation for my undergraduate linguistics’ course. I started on this venture as a volunteer for a semester that landed me my first teaching job as a Special Education Educational Assistant. It gave me an opportunity to work with a fourth grade special needs student from a Hawaiian immersion school. My role as an educator became purposeful, and it was very important to me. This student became my inspiration to further my education and to help make a difference for our Native Hawaiian children who have disabilities.

*The Aloha Kumu Cohort is made up of teachers in Nānākuli, Waiʻanae and Kapolei schools. The focus is on National Board certification and community-engaged scholarship. Please contact Dr. Kimo Cashman at for more information.

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