By Lori Kwee
First, I would like to express heartfelt gratitude to all of you — Hawaii’s educators — for the inspiring, passionate, extraordinary service you do everyday for all students to feel connected, successful, joyful and confident.
I am sincerely humbled and honored to have served as your 2021 Hawaii State Teacher of the Year and I am proud of all of you. A momentous highlight in my life was a recent recognition ceremony in Washington, D.C., to represent Hawaii’s teachers, students, and people. I met Dr. Jill Biden at the White House where I shared our message of aloha as she expressed her appreciation to educators for the huge impact educators make changing lives and changing the world.
“Never stop ringing your bell,” Dr. Biden said. “Never forget the lives you change go on to change the world. Student by student, you perform miracles everyday.”
I am ecstatic to celebrate this year’s finalists and our 2022 Hawaii State Teacher of the Year. Congratulations on all your achievements in the noblest profession of education.
Reflecting on the past year, despite the challenges, School Year 2020-21 gave us transformative opportunities to learn, teach, lead, empower and reimagine.
Hawaii educators performed miracles connecting with students through virtual collaboration, hybrid models, and finally, transitioning to face-to-face interaction in 2021. Resilience characterized the strength and determination of teachers to connect every student. Educators rallied to build authentic relationships, encourage student voice, focus on social-emotional health, and commit to equity/access for all to thrive along with making schools safe in new creative spaces. Learning extended outdoors, for example, with well ventilated spaces wearing face masks.
Slowly, there are signs that some of the pre-pandemic normalcy is making a comeback as we rise to new levels. A field trip on a school bus to the Mānoa Heritage Center in September, after two years of no excursions, was beautifully refreshing. We hiked, did kalo and kukui leaf rubbings, learned about native Hawaiian plants, and applied mālama, working together to love and care for our ‘āina.
One of my passions is project-based learning that engages students to be curious, passionate and inquisitive to solve meaningful, purposeful, real-world problems extending into community service. This school year, using the Farmacy Boxes as platforms of discovery, students enthusiastically are curious about microbes, earthworms, comparing ways to grow vegetables such as hydroponics, and the Ala Wai garden. They can’t stop talking, writing, researching, and sketching details of their understanding of the relationship between microorganisms, earthworms, and plants, to our human gut system.
Another refreshing experience is rekindling our Ala Wai Genki Balls restoration project as a school-wide event. The mud balls contain microorganisms that help remove pollutants from the canal. Through active collaboration, students made 700 genki mudballs to toss into the Ala Wai Canal on Nov. 12, 2021. I loved seeing the joyful expressions and laughter as everyone on our campus played with mud to make these precious mud balls. Learning is hands-on fun!
Congratulations again to each of the Teacher of the Year finalists. The future is in view and full of bright opportunities. Reflect on the past, honor the present, and look optimistically to the future — our North Star.
Lori Kwee was named the 2021 Hawaii State Teacher of the Year. Currently teaching third-graders at Ala Wai Elementary School, she engages the rich diverse cultures and 38 spoken languages to achieve a vision where every child thrives to Believe, Achieve, Succeed, and Dream Big! Her students engage in student-led learning projects based on their interests, curiosities, and passions using the 21st Century thinking skills process. Kwee is an avid yoga enthusiast with a keen interest in health and well-being and extended her passion to teaching yoga to her students and others.