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Hawaii’s top teacher gets shout-out from Obama

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In an encounter she described as "surreal," Hawaii Teacher of the Year Kristen Brummel got to chat with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office Tuesday about Noelani Elementary in Manoa, where Obama attended kindergarten and Brummel teaches fourth grade.

Obama also gave Brummel a special shout-out at a Rose Garden ceremony for the nation’s top educators, saying it was "pretty cool" that she taught where he went to school.

"I think it is important to note, this is off-script, but the teacher of the year from Hawaii … teaches at the first school I ever went to, Noelani School up in Manoa in Hawaii," Obama said. "So I thought that was pretty cool. I went there in first grade. It’s a wonderful school." Obama moved to Indonesia during his first-grade year.

Reached yesterday in Washington, D.C., as she prepared to attend a gala with other top teachers, Brummel was still giddy.

"The experience has been truly amazing and life-changing," said Brummel, 33, a seventh-year teacher, of her trip to the nation’s capital and visits with the president, Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

She said that before the Rose Garden ceremony, teachers from each state got to go into the Oval Office to snap a photo with Obama.

When Brummel went in for her photo, Obama greeted her and immediately started talking about his connection to Noelani.

"He said, ‘I’m here today because of Noelani and because of schools like that,’" Brummel said.

Brummel told the president that her students "send their aloha."

Obama replied, "Tell them I said aloha as well," Brummel said.

Brummel, who teaches fourth grade at Noelani and is a nationally certified teacher, has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Hawaii.

When she is not in the classroom, Brummel is a mentor teacher, a guest lecturer, educational consultant, blog writer and volunteer.

She said she plans to use the teacher of the year honor and meet-and-greet with the president as a teachable moment for her students, with whom she has been video chatting from Washington.

"I always tell them that whatever you want to do, you are capable," said Brummel, who also attended Noelani. "It is neat to have a president in office that did walk the same halls that the students are walking right now."

At the White House ceremony, Obama honored teachers from across the country and talked about the importance of thanking educators for all they do.

During his remarks, Obama also introduced National Teacher of the Year Michelle Shearer, a chemistry teacher at Urbana High School in Maryland, and remembered one of the special teachers who touched his life, Mabel Hefty, who taught at Punahou School. Hefty was Obama’s fifth-grade teacher at Punahou, which the president attended from fifth through 12th grade.

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