Ala Wai Elementary teacher selected as a National ‘LifeChanger of the Year’ Grand Prize Finalist


Ala Wai Elementary School teacher Lori Kwee was surprised during school assembly with a $5,000 award.

Lori Kwee, a fourth grade teacher at Ala Wai Elementary School, was named a national 2018-2019 LifeChanger of the Year Grand Prize Finalist during an assembly held in her school's cafeteria.

Kwee received a $5,000 prize, which will be awarded as a $2,500 individual prize and a $2,500 donation to Ala Wai Elementary School. The award was presented by National Life Group representative Mallorie Manosh, as well as Kwee's principal and nominator, Michelle DeBusca.

Kwee is being recognized for her ground-breaking approach to educating students. At the beginning of each school year, she asks her students two questions: "What are you interested in? What are you curious about?" These two questions shape the instruction her students receive.

In 2017, Kwee's students responded to her questions by indicating they were interested in saving the Vaquita porpoise, an endangered species endemic to the Gulf of California. They spent hours writing reports, letters to policy makers, and social media posts in their effort to save the Vaquita porpoise. As a result, their attendance and test scores increased, and they became relentless in their pursuit of information and answers to their questions. They held fundraisers, created informational brochures with their own supplies, and designed T-shirts.

Ultimately, Kwee and her students were invited to the Hawaii State Legislature to present their project to legislators.  They were also invited to present at the Department of Education's Honolulu District Instructional Leadership Team's Conference, where teachers and principals from other schools rewarded the students with a standing ovation. 

For the 2018-19 school year, Kwee has themed her instruction around anti-bullying. She established a safe classroom environment where students could talk about bullying without fear of punishment, retribution, criticism or embarrassment. Two of her students even admitted they were bullies themselves, and they were able to see the negative impact their actions had on others.

Through this process, students learned about forgiveness, forgiving their bullies, and forgiving themselves. When one of the student bullies had to leave the school because of family circumstances, her students organized a farewell party. They produced video clips, wrote letters, and made a Lego statue in his honor. The bully became their friend.

"The value of the process to provide meaningful opportunities for our students to activate their voice can't be measured," said DeBusca. "Lori has elevated student motivation to levels that go beyond an assignment, grade, or even the school day. It's just amazing how her instruction has inspired teachers, students, parents, and myself."

Kwee was selected as a LifeChanger of the Year winner out of more than 832 teachers, administrators and school district employees nominated for the award from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Read her full LifeChanger of the Year profile here.

About LifeChanger of the Year

LifeChanger of the Year is a national program sponsored by National Life Group that annually recognizes and rewards K-12 school district educators and employees who make a difference in the lives of students by exemplifying excellence, positive influence, and leadership.

LifeChanger of the Year nominees must be full-time educators, teachers, principals, or any member of the school district's staff who makes a positive difference in the lives of students. 

Award winners are selected based on the following criteria:

  • A proven ability to make a beneficial difference in the lives of students
  • An ability to positively add to the development of the school's atmosphere
  • A leader in his or her activities at the school and/or district level
  • A proven record of excellent performance at the professional level
  • A commitment to producing a nurturing atmosphere

Contact Information

Communications Branch

Phone: 808-586-3232


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