Hawaii public school teachers Akeyo Garcia (Ewa Elementary) and Masaru Uchino (Momilani Elementary) have been awarded one of the nation's most prestigious honors bestowed upon teachers — the Presidential Award of Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, or PAEMST.
The PAEMST is the highest award K-12 mathematics and science (including computer science) teachers can receive from the U.S. government. The award alternates years between kindergarten through sixth grade and seventh to 12th grade teachers. During a visit to the nation's capital, award recipients will each receive a presidential citation at an awards ceremony and participate in discussions on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and STEM education priorities. Recipients will also receive $10,000 from the National Science Foundation, which manages the PAEMST program on behalf of the White House.
"We're proud to have our Hawaii public school teachers recognized by the White House," said Superintendent Dr. Christina M. Kishimoto. "Their contribution to the teaching profession through excellence and innovation that positively impacts our students is noteworthy. Congratulations Akeyo and Masaru!"
Ewa Elementary, K-6 Mathematics
Akeyo Garcia has been an early childhood educator for more than 20 years, teaching children ranging from newborns to six-year-olds in both California and Hawaii. She taught kindergarten at Ewa Elementary School for eight years, and recently served as a prekindergarten Program Director and teacher at Kamalani Academy Charter School. Next year, Akeyo will be returning to Ewa Elementary School to launch a prekindergarten program.
Akeyo increases student understanding using a play-based discovery approach, and shares her enthusiasm for mathematics by engaging students in hands-on activities, collaborative discussions, and projects.
"I am greatly humbled and honored to receive the Presidential Award and join past recipients whom I have admired and respected," Garcia said. "My journey was possible with the support of family, students, mentors, colleagues, and administrators. I learned the best teachers find ways to motivate and inspire children and other educators. Knowing that an award of this caliber can be life changing, I look forward to exploring the opportunities the future has in store."
Akeyo’s awards include the Educator of Excellence in Our Community Award, the Kōkua Hawaii Foundation Earth Action Projects Award, and over $50,000 in grants. The most prominent of these awards is the National Education Association’s Learning and Leadership grant, which allowed her to purchase STEM materials for seven classrooms.
Akeyo earned a B.Ed., with distinction, in elementary education and a M.Ed. in curriculum studies with a concentration in prekindergarten to third grade from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. She recently completed a master’s degree in early childhood education. She is certified to teach prekindergarten through sixth grade and is currently working to obtain a National Board Certification for Early Childhood Generalist.
Momilani Elementary, K-6 Science
Masaru Uchino has been an educator for 11 years, spending that time teaching third grade at Momilani Elementary School. He teaches mathematics, science, social studies, and physical education.
In the classroom, Masaru uses a variety of hands-on projects, and group work experiments to help promote a deeper sense of learning within a community. His students can be seen doing a wide range of activities, both in and out of the classroom, ranging from experiments using plants and plant materials, to creating architectural models of solar powered lighting units for a theoretical office space.
"The Presidential Award has been has been an exciting and challenging journey within my career as a science and mathematics teacher," Uchino said. "This award has motivated me to expand and develop my skills as a classroom teacher and to continually adapt my lesson plans to be more closely aligned with the state and national standards for science. Through this process, I have been reminded that my own personal educational journey has only just begun. I am excited to see where my journey will lead me next!
Masaru was recently recognized with the Milken Educator Award for the 2016-2017 school year. He was also named the 2015 Leeward District Teacher of the Year. As a member of the National Science Teachers Association, he is continually striving to better align his classroom curriculum with the newly adopted Next Generation Science Standards and plans to strive for continued excellence in teaching in Hawaii.
Masaru earned a B.A. in social studies from the University of California, Irvine, and a M.A. in educational technology from the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. He is certified in kindergarten through sixth grade elementary education.
Established in 1983, PAEMST is the highest award kindergarten through 12th grade mathematics and science (including computer science) teachers can receive from the U.S. government. The award alternates years between kindergarten through sixth grade and seventh-12th grade teachers.
Nominees complete a rigorous application process that requires them to demonstrate their excellence in content knowledge and ability to adapt to a broad range of learners and teaching environments.
A panel of distinguished mathematicians, scientists and educators at the state and national levels assess the applications before recommending nominees to the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Teachers are selected based on their distinction in the classroom and dedication to improving STEM education.
Awardees represent schools in all 50 U.S. states, Department of Defense Education Activity schools and schools in the U.S. territories American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.