Lori Kwee was named the 2021 Hawai‘i State Teacher of the Year by Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and Governor David Ige during a virtual awards ceremony on October 23, 2020. An Ala Wai Elementary School teacher for the past 20 years, Kwee earned a professional diploma and BEd in Elementary Education from the UH Mānoa College of Education (COE).
As a finalist for this award, Kwee was the Kaimukī-McKinley-Roosevelt Complex area winner. Several other complex area winners are also COE alumni, including: Kristen Eastvedt, Shannon Kealoha, Joanna Kobayashi, Keala Nunuha, Ashley Oyama, Elaine Higa, and Heidi Jenkins. These teachers were selected from more than 13,000 educators within the Hawaiʻi State Department of Education (HIDOE).
Following in her mom’s footsteps, Kwee says that it has been her dream to engage children in discovering the joys of learning. “Betty, my mom, was a teacher and also a graduate of UH Mānoa. As a young girl, I saw the pleasure she took as an educator at Ala Wai Elementary School. Her positive influence steered me to my path into elementary education, leading me to Ala Wai School as a full circle in life.”
Eastvedt, the Castle-Kahuku Complex area winner, holds an MEd in Educational Psychology from the COE. A teacher at Hau’ula Elementary School for the past 17 years, she says she always knew that becoming a teacher was her destiny.
“As a child, I loved to play teacher and collect stickers and pretend to grade papers. I continue to enjoy teaching because I see children become successful and independent,” Eastvedt said. “I am the teacher that I am today because of all the teachers who have been examples to me and have helped me grow. I also had amazing professors at the COE who helped me understand how children learn and the various learning styles and assessments that are available.”
Baldwin-Kekaulike-Maui Complex area winner, Kealoha, received her professional diploma and BEd in Elementary Education. She teaches eighth grade math at Maui Waena Intermediate School where she has worked since 2001.
Kealoha stated, “This is quite an amazing and humbling honor. I am entrusted with the most precious gift that parents have to offer, and I am blessed with the opportunity to make a positive impact in their child’s life that will help to shape their future.”
Kobayashi is the ‘Aiea-Moanalua-Radford Complex area winner and has been a teacher at Moanalua High School for 10 years. Having earned an MEdT in Secondary Education, she says helping students understand how they can make positive impacts on our communities is what drew her to the field of education.
“This award gives me the opportunity to recognize my amazing colleagues, students, mentors, community members, and friends/family who support me, our students, and public schools,” said Kobayashi. “The MEdT Cohort 19 and our mentors gave me the support I needed to make things possible.”
A teacher at Nānāikapono Elementary School since 2006, Nunuha is the Nānākuli-Waiʻanae Complex area winner. She holds both a BEd in Elementary Education and MEd in Curriculum Studies from the COE.
Nunuha shared, “I had great elementary school teachers when I attended Nānāikapono. Because of them, I knew I wanted to give back to my school and community. We all work in this profession not to receive accolades, but rather to find that simple joy of knowing we can make a difference. The COE programs, Kalama and Aloha Kumu, helped provide me with those first stepping stones of my journey that is still being paved today.”
Oyama, who earned a BEd in Elementary Education, is the Honokaʻa-Kealakehe-Kohala-Konawaena Complex area winner. A fourth grade teacher at Konawaena Elementary School, she says she was inspired by her own third and fourth grade teachers to one day impact and change the lives of students.
“Each year, I get to play a part in shaping the future, not just with my words, but with my actions,” Oyama explained. “Part of teaching is guiding students to find their voice and encouraging them to use it in the classroom and school community.”
Higa, who holds a professional diploma and BEd in Secondary Education, is the Kaʻu-Keaʻau-Pahoa Complex area winner (Hawai‘i District Office). Jenkins, the Hāna-Lahainaluna-Lanaʻi-Molokaʻi Complex area winner (Maui District Office), has a BEd in Elementary Education.
“This award means my community extends a heartwarming honor for my service to education,” Kwee concluded. “It further pays tribute to our wonderful community of teachers and colleagues who have made indelible impressions on me so that I may become the teacher I am today.”
As the State Teacher of the Year, Kwee will represent Hawai‘i in the National Teacher of the Year program.