A passion for helping students to reach their highest potential is what motivates Kaneohe Elementary special education teacher Bella Finau-Faumuina.
In only her third year of teaching, Kumu Bella, as she is more commonly referred to, was honored as the state winner of the prestigious Teacher of Promise Award from the National Milken Educators of Hawaii. The award annually recognizes a teacher who demonstrates excellence in the field and the highest qualities of a professional educator during their first six semesters in the classroom. Established in 2007, the award alternates annually between elementary and secondary teachers.
Kumu Bella was surprised with the certificate of recognition for her outstanding work during a school-wide assembly. A $1,000 check from sponsors at the HawaiiUSA Federal Credit Union will be presented to her at an upcoming National Milken Educators of Hawaii luncheon.
"I humbly accept this award on behalf of the community and for all of us who work so hard for our keiki," said Kumu Bella. "They deserve the best education possible and they get that here at Kaneohe Elementary."
Kumu Bella spearheads the Innovation Academy at Kaneohe Elementary, an experimental school-within-a-school, to provide inclusive learning experiences for students with disabilities. In the academy, subjects are integrated and taught in a hands-on fashion, providing a high degree of relevance and applicability. Kumu Bella regularly exposes her students to different community partners to illustrate how classroom lessons can be applied to a variety of careers.
"When kids are engaged and they have relevant content, they're able to connect to who they are and refine their strengths," said Kumu Bella.
Kumu Bella’s effectiveness has been proven through an improvement in attendance, an increase of student assessment scores, and a positive transformation in student engagement levels. Students uniformly speak of her ability to instill a love for learning and parents frequently express an appreciation for Kumu Bella as they recognize the positive impact of her innovative teaching methods.
Building a strong sense of community and culture of aloha within Kaneohe Elementary is another notable priority of Kumu Bella. She encourages her colleagues to get involved and take on leadership roles to increase the sense of school ownership amongst faculty. She also builds bridges between the school and families by hosting potluck dinners throughout the school year so that parents feel more connected to the school.
“With each experience, Kumu Bella grows as a teacher-leader, invested in improving the learning experience of all students, not just the ones in her classroom,” said Principal Derek Minakami. “Given all that she has accomplished thus far, the promise she holds is almost unfathomable.”
In addition to the state Milken Teacher of Promise recognition, ten other Hawaii public school teachers will be recognized as district Milken Teacher of Promise awardees.