Supporting Hawaii's public schools is one of the most important ways individuals can do their part to give back and invest in Hawaii's future. Regardless of whether you're a parent, grandparent auntie or uncle — everyone has a role to play in the education of Hawaii's children. For the past two years, I've volunteered time as an appointed member on Hawaii's Board of Education and it has opened my eyes into our public education system.
The majority of our state's children are public school students (84.8 percent). They are our future leaders who will be tasked with solving the complex issues inherited from our generation. It is crucial that we equip them with the mindsets and tools they need to make our world a better place.
As a lifelong educator, and BOE member, I have seen how my time and efforts can impact schools and students directly.
From creating grass-roots policies that promote equity and social justice, to preparing teachers, to developing curriculum that celebrates the diverse cultures and languages in our islands, my duties as a professor and responsibilities on the school board have given me a deeper respect for the state Department of Education (DOE) and the people who serve our children daily.
My introduction to the board began a few years ago when I decided to use the power of voice and testify at one of the BOE meetings in support of social studies. I realized that my opinion matters and that the Board is a bridge between the community and the department.
It is the BOE's responsibility to cultivate a relationship between the two entities that is productive and constructive. Members are tasked with listening and bringing the voices of diverse and oftentimes marginalized communities to the forefront, and acting upon them.
During my time on the BOE, I listened and advocated for the Seal of Biliteracy (BOE Policy 105.15), a national movement, which recognizes secondary students who show high proficiency in more than one language. As a Filipina American, this was important to incentivize learning a new language or sustaining one's home language and culture while learning English. In the end, we are producing students who are multilingual, and even more prepared for college, career and contributing to our community.
The BOE currently consists of members with varying backgrounds from education and health, to business and law. As the board transitions, we need more leaders from our Native Hawaiian and immigrant communities. We also need representation from higher education and practicing teachers who will voice the concerns from the frontlines. This type of diversity is needed to tackle the complexities of a large system.
As my term comes to an end, please consider this an invitation.
It is easy for critics to blame institutions for not doing enough or not making the right decisions. But in order to evoke the change that is being demanded, it will take action from everyone in the community. Whether it is testifying on issues, volunteering in a classroom, tutoring or donating to public schools, it will take us working together.
The DOE has made strides in recent years, but there is more work to be done. I'm proud to have had the chance to learn more about and to support public education first hand. Service on the Board of Education is time-consuming, emotional and a serious commitment. However, it is also one of the most rewarding and eye-opening roles I have had the privilege of experiencing.
Dr. Patricia Halagao is an Associate Professor in Curriculum Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Education. She received her Ph.D. and M.A. from the University of Washington's College of Education, and has served on the Hawaii State Board of Education since 2013.