Four UH Mānoa College of Education (COE) alumni were named Complex Area Teachers of the Year by the Hawaiʻi Department of Education (HIDOE). Greg Kent, Ariel Villanueva, Marina Higa, and David “Kawika” Gonazales Jr. were all finalists for the 2024 Hawaiʻi State Teacher of the Year.
Kent, who earned a BEd in Elementary Education and an MEd in Educational Technology, is the technology coordinator at Kailua Elementary School. He says one of his elementary science teachers, Mr. Robinson, inspired him to become a teacher by creating fun challenges for his students and by being genuinely as excited as they were about what they were doing.
“I love learning and teaching in an environment that fosters creativity, curiosity, and a willingness to take risks,” Kent said. “This award is a boost to keep moving forward, and I am grateful for the support I have at Kailua Elementary School and from my fellow teachers. Biggest shout-out to Craig Doyle and Patricia Lopes from the COE who were my strongest supporters.”
An industrial engineering and technology teacher at ʻEwa Makai Middle School, Villanueva received a post-baccalaureate certificate in teaching. The best part of the COE, he says, was that he was able to gain expertise in his field and stay in Hawaiʻi to teach. He also credits Dr. Frank Walton, retired COE secondary education specialist, for helping him and his cohort navigate the program after already working in the industry.
Villanueva said, “It is a tremendous and humbling honor to be recognized amongst such accomplished and distinguished colleagues. It is validation for my own teachers who helped me become an educator. The UH Mānoa COE really did prepare me for a lifelong career.”
Higa, a special education teacher at Shafter Elementary School, holds a BEd in Elementary Education and Special Education. In her fourth year as a special education teacher, she says she is loving every moment of it.
“I hope to represent all of those hard working special education teachers out there,” Higa said. “All of you are also deserving of this award. Keep advocating for our kiddos with special needs. You’re doing an amazing job! Shout out to my cohort advisors, Jamie and Cindy, and all of my college professors!”
A fifth grade teacher at Kaunakakai Elementary School, Gonazales earned his MEd in Learning Design and Technology as well as a COLT Graduate Certificate. His high school business teacher, Mrs. Wada, inspired him to become a teacher by demonstrating what it was to be a great teacher, gently encouraging her students while also challenging them.
Gonazales said, “More recently, my COE professors Dr. Dan Hoffman, Dr. Peter Leong, and Dr. Seungoh Paek helped me to see how I can take my teaching to the next level. This award is an affirmation that all of the hard work and time spent on creating engaging and meaningful instruction is making a difference in my classroom, in my school, and in my complex area. I am honored to receive this recognition.”