The Hawaiʻi State Department of Education (HIDOE) today named Waiākea High School teacher Whitney Aragaki the 2022 Hawaiʻi State Teacher of the Year. Aragaki received the state's top teaching award from Gov. David Ige and Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi during a virtual awards ceremony this afternoon.
Aragaki will represent Hawaiʻi in the National Teacher of the Year program. The honor is presented annually to a classroom teacher selected from more than 13,000 HIDOE educators. Aragaki was among 15 Complex Area Teachers of the Year and the Charter School Teacher of the Year recognized today.
“Whitney’s innovative approach to teaching offers students meaningful cultural and place-based learning opportunities that are both rigorous and relevant to our young learners,” Interim Superintendent Hayashi said. “Science can be an intimidating subject for students, but Whitney successfully engages her students in exciting and empowering ways.
Aragaki has been teaching at Waiākea High for 10 years and currently serves as a 10th-grade biology and Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science teacher. Her classroom activities are known to put students in touch with their local communities and are designed around learning through problem solving. Beyond science, Aragaki’s educational activities offer students opportunities to elevate their leadership and civic responsibility within the community.
In 2018 the Department awarded Aragaki an innovation grant to support her proposal for Science Buddies, a program where AP science students could make an impact on the next generation of science learners in their own community by creating standards-based lessons for elementary classrooms. What resulted from the program were hands-on, locally based, and academically rigorous activities for over 250 students in grades 3-5.
While challenging, Aragaki’s methods of teaching have invited students to explore the world of science. “Mrs. Aragaki perseveres on a daily basis to provide her students with the proper experience, knowledge and environment they need to open up to being willing to engage in STEM,” Waiākea High alumna Lela DeVine shared. “The honesty and transparency throughout the classroom that allows her students to feel safe and inclusive is what sets Mrs. Aragaki apart from any teacher I have ever had.”
Also an alumna of Waiākea High, Aragaki has worked to further improve her school community through the creation of the peer-to-peer Warrior Professional Learning Community (PLC). After noticing a large turnover of teachers at her school, Aragaki initiated this teacher induction and mentoring group for those both new to the school and new to the profession to help foster a greater sense of school culture and belonging. Through the New Warrior PLC, new teachers receive training on career academies, how to support future first-generation college students, classroom technology integration, and other professional development sessions by school-based teacher leaders.
“Mrs. Aragaki’s commitment to excellence goes far beyond her teaching and the four corners of her classroom,” Waiākea High Principal Kelcy Koga said. “She sees the benefits that a sound education can provide, and is willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to not only serve her students but her colleagues and school community as well.”
In addition to her classroom teacher role, Aragaki has taught AP Environmental Science, AP Statistics and AP Computer Science Principles for the statewide Hawaiʻi Virtual Learning Network’s E-School since 2013. She is the lead teacher of the Waiākea High Public Services Academy, which was recognized as a National Model Academy under the National Career Academy Coalition in 2018. A National Board Certified Teacher, Aragaki was also a 2019 and 2021 state finalist for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).
The full list of finalists honored today are, in alphabetical order:
- ʻĀina Akamu, Ka‘ū-Keaʻau-Pāhoa Complex Area, Kaʻū High & Pāhala Elementary.
- Wesley Capdepon, Honoka‘a-Kealakehe-Kohala-Konawaena Complex Area, Honokaʻa Elementary.
- Cara Chaudron, Public Charter Schools, SEEQS: The School for Examining Essential Questions of Sustainability.
- Trisha Gibson, ‘Aiea-Moanalua-Radford Complex Area, ‘Aiea Elementary.
- Wendy Gumm, Nānākuli-Waiʻanae Complex Area, Nānāikapono Elementary.
- Ashley Ito-Macion, Pearl City-Waipahu Complex Area, Kanoelani Elementary.
- Corrie Izumoto, Kaimukī-McKinley-Roosevelt Complex Area, Kawānanakoa Middle.
- Jim Kunimitsu, Campbell-Kapolei Complex Area, Pōhākea Elementary.
- Richard Lau, Kailua-Kalāheo Complex Area, Kalāheo High.
- Theresa Malone, Kapaʻa-Kauaʻi-Waimea Complex Area, Kalāheo Elementary.
- Jeni Miyahira, Leilehua-Mililani-Waialua Complex Area, Mililani High.
- Miyuki Sekimitsu, Castle-Kahuku Complex Area, Kāne‘ohe Elementary.
- Wendy Shigeta, Farrington-Kaiser-Kalani Complex Area, Haha‘ione Elementary.
- Bill Tatro, Hāna-Lahainaluna-Lānaʻi-Molokaʻi Complex Area, Lahainaluna High.
- Lisa Yamada, Baldwin-Kekaulike-Maui Complex Area, Wailuku Elementary.
Today's virtual ceremony included:
- Honorariums to each finalist by Hawaiian Electric Co.
- A one-year lease of a 2022 Subaru Impreza courtesy of Subaru Hawaii to the winner.