Clockwise from center: Vanessa Ching, Del Onaga, Naomi Salaveria,Gregg Iha, and Francine Hughes. Photo credit: HIDOE

University of Hawai‛i College of Education (COE) alumni were named State and District Teachers of the Year. Vanessa Ching is the State Teacher of the Year, and Francine Hughes, Naomi Salaveria, Gregg Iha, and Del Onaga are district winners.

Ching, a National Board Certified elementary and special education teacher, earned a BEd in elementary and special education from the COE. She serves as the student activities coordinator, year book advisor, and Green Program coordinator at ‛Ewa Makai Middle School where she emphasizes accountability, empowerment, and bringing positive change to the community. Because of her service projects, students, colleagues, and parents work together throughout the ‘Ewa community. She also led her students to advocate for a plastic-free Hawai‛i, resulting in National Green Ribbon School certification for her school.

“The COE provided me with a definite foundation and with the tools and strategies to work with a variety of people,” Ching said. “Although the program was rigorous, I was fortunate to work through these challenges with my talented cohort that I am still very close to today. I am especially grateful for receiving great leadership and guidance from my advisors, Amelia Jenkins and Beth Pateman, who always modeled compassion, empathy, and true professionalism.”

The Maui District Teacher of the Year, Hughes holds both a professional diploma and an MEd from the COE. She is a resource teacher with 20 years of Department of Education (DOE) experience. “In my current position as a District Resource Teacher, working with many school administrators and teachers, I often cannot see what immediate impact I’m having because I don’t work directly with students anymore,” she explained. “Being recognized for this award makes me feel like I am making a positive difference in educators’ lives so they can, in turn, make a significant difference in their students’ lives.

Salaveria, the Honolulu District Teacher of the Year, received her BEd in elementary and special education from the COE. She teaches students with high needs and multiple disabilities at Liholiho Elementary, building their social and academic growth through clear and consistent expectations. After hours, she serves as a volunteer at Shriner’s Hospital. “I appreciate the pedagogic foundation that the College of Education provided me,” she said. “I believe that all children can grow socially, emotionally and academically and it is my job to help foster their growth through engaging, relevant lessons that build on their learning strengths and personal interests.”

Central District Teacher of the Year, Iha earned both a BEd and a professional diploma in elementary education from the COE. A resource teacher, Iha spent his early career at Nānāikapono Elementary on the Leeward Coast where he learned to value every individual. He is responsible for initiating the Six Pillars of Character program in the Mililani Complex that is still practiced today. “It is extremely rewarding to be recognized in this way, but there are so many teachers who are equally, if not more, deserving of this recognition,” Iha said. “In my 30 years with the Hawai‛i DOE, I have had the honor and privilege of working with so many of these incredibly hard-working, dedicated, and inspiring teachers who are so generous with their time and energy.”

Onaga, the Windward District Teacher of the Year, received his MEd in curriculum studies from the COE. He has worked with at-risk youth at Olomana School for seven years. A certified Career & Technical Education teacher in Industrial and Engineering Technology, he is the lead teacher for the school’s first Engineering Academy. In a Hawai‛i DOE press release, Principal Stacey Oshio said that Onaga is a model for his students “by being fully engaged, facilitating thinking, and not being afraid to take risks and make mistakes.”

Part of a prestigious national program that honors teaching excellence in the United States, the Hawai‛i State Teacher of the Year is chosen from one of the seven HIDOE districts and public charter school winners. A national selection committee in Washington D.C. will select four finalists, and the President of the United States will introduce the National Teacher of the Year and all State Teachers of the Year in April 2018.

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