He's 18, she's 20: Meet the HIDOE's youngest teachers


Blaise Babineck, 18, and Skye Yasuda, 20, are two of the youngest full-time teachers in the Hawai‘i State Department of Education.

​KĀNE‘OHE — They graduated early and went straight back to school.

Blaise Babineck, 18, and Skye Yasuda, 20, are two of the youngest full-time teachers in the Hawai‘i State Department of Education. Through the Early College program, they both earned bachelor’s degrees in less than four years, allowing them to get a head start on their teaching careers.

Babineck is an eighth grade science teacher at King Intermediate School on Oahu’s Windward coast. There is no known record of an 18-year-old or 19-year-old ever serving as teachers at a Hawai‘i public school, according to the HIDOE’s Office of Talent Management.

“I knew I wanted to teach after I graduated,” said Babineck, who grew up in ‘Ewa Beach and attended a mix of public, private and home school growing up.

He didn’t grow up around science. None of his family members worked in STEM or health care. 

His love for science was ignited by his seventh grade teacher at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Mrs. Pili Spencer. That year, he won the school’s science fair, placed third overall in the district fair, and won second place at the state science fair. 

He then enrolled at Maryknoll School, and as a sophomore, signed up for AP Chemistry as a way to “challenge” himself, never having taken any chemistry courses before. He said he struggled a bit at first but “got much better at it” and eventually started helping his classmates. He got a 5 on the AP Chemistry exam — the highest possible score. He said his teacher, Dr. Derek Birkmire, was influential in his decision to pursue a career in science and teaching.

“So, really, my teachers showed me a STEM-related career was possible for me,” said Babineck, who hopes to be the same inspiration to his students as his teachers were for him. He still keeps in touch with both teacher mentors and turns to them for advice for his own classroom. 

Through Maryknoll’s Early College Program partnership with Hawaii Pacific University and AP credits, he graduated high school at age 16 in June 2022 and started college at junior and senior-level courses. Babineck is one of two Maryknoll students who graduated in less than four years in the school’s 97-year history, a spokeswoman confirmed. 

He graduated from Hawai‘i Pacific University with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in May 2023 at age 18 as the undergraduate class valedictorian.

At HPU, he served as a teaching assistant for organic and general chemistry courses and president of the university’s Chemistry Club. He also worked as a peer mentor success coach and planned outreach events for the American Chemical Society while tutoring on the side. 

“I really loved sharing my passion for science with other people and guiding them through things and showing them how interesting and fun chemistry can be,” he said. “I had a lot of fun doing that.”

After college, he applied for science teacher positions at both public and private schools but it was King Intermediate that he felt a strong pull toward. 

He fell in love with the Kāneʻohe community while studying at HPU’s Windward campus because it reminded him of his rural upbringing in West Oahu. He said the school’s administration was very welcoming toward him as well.

“I really wanted to support kids with a similar background to me. I really wanted to teach at a school similar to the schools I grew up in — with local students, who didn’t have that much exposure to science,” he said.

He knew he wanted to teach at the eighth grade level.

“It’s the year before high school. It’s the year that will influence what electives they take, what pathway they take, what academy they go into. It’s really a decision point for students,” he said. “I felt like eighth grade was the perfect point where I could get students excited about science and get students motivated."

In just his first seven months as a teacher at King Intermediate, Babineck spearheaded the effort to bring the science fair back, which the school had not participated in for years. He wanted his students to have the same opportunities that he did in middle school.

“What I didn’t expect was that two of them would be first place winners in their category at the district fair, and one won third place overall,” he said.

When he’s not in the classroom, he’s working on research at HPU’s lab to study pollutant interaction with microplastics. He received a National Institute for Health grant for the research, but wasn’t able to finish it before he graduated.

“I love science and I love sharing it,” he said.

Babineck is considered an emergency hire, which refers to educators who can be hired to teach while they actively pursue their teacher license. The Department currently has about 660 teachers who are working under emergency hire permits.

(The HIDOE strives to ensure every classroom is filled with a trained, certified teacher and has employed a variety of recruitment strategies locally, nationally and internationally to fill vacant teacher positions. As of Oct. 1, 2023, 95.5% of HIDOE teachers were certified. Under the Department’s modernized applicant tracking system, which advertises school-specific vacancies to jobseekers, teacher vacancies dropped by 57% between Oct. 2022 and Oct. 2023.)

On the other side of the island in the Leeward District, Skye Yasuda knew since elementary school that she wanted to be a teacher whenever she’d watch her mom stamp papers growing up.

“I really like the idea of being able to help other people and giving them the tools they need to succeed,” she said. 

At 20, she’s doing just that as a sixth grade English and social studies teacher at Waipahu Elementary School. 

Like Babineck, she took advantage of the Early College Program at Waipahu High School and graduated in 2021 as a valedictorian with not only her high school diploma, but two associate’s degrees, one in teaching and another in liberal arts, and a certificate of competence in culturally responsive teaching from Leeward Community College — all at the same time. She was the first high school student in the state to graduate with an Associate of Science in Teaching from LCC. 

Yasuda then attended the University of Hawai‘i–West Oahu on a Presidential Scholarship, which provides a full-tuition waiver for two years to support rising juniors at UH community colleges with a record of outstanding academic achievement. 

Two years later, in May 2023, she graduated with her bachelor’s degree in elementary education. 

“I love serving my community and am honored to be able to come back,” said Yasuda, who attended Kaleiopu‘u Elementary, Waipahu Intermediate and Waipahu High.

A passion for public education runs in her family. Her mother, Monica, is the Early College Coordinator at Nānākuli High & Intermediate School. Her younger brother, Maverick, served as the student representative on the state Board of Education for the 2022-23 term. Her younger sister, Lotus, a sophomore at Waipahu High, is on the Hawai‘i State Student Council as the vice chair for operations. And her dad, Kris, was also an English teacher and the student government advisor at Nānākuli High & Intermediate School before transitioning into the energy sector. 

There are “pros and cons,” she says, of her age.

The pros: She feels like it puts her at an advantage as a teacher. 

“I went to school during COVID so I know how hard it was, being able to understand all those different circumstances, being more aware of mental health issues, knowing what type of environment I wanted as a student and being able to provide that for my kids,” she said. “Also keeping up with some of the trends and being able to include that in my lessons because they can connect to it better and apply it to their day-to-day lives.”

The cons: It’s “challenging” to see friends who are in college while her weekends are spent grading papers.

Even so, she doesn’t regret graduating early.

“Right now, I can do what I love and I can put into action everything that I learned,” she said.

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