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Hawaii’s 2021 Teacher of the Year empowers students at Ala Wai Elementary

  • Video courtesy state Department of Education

    Watch a broadcast of the 2021 Hawaii State Teacher of the Year ceremony.

  • COURTESY PHOTO
                                Lori Kwee, who is the 2021 Hawaii State Teacher of the Year, teaches at Ala Wai Elementary School, following her mother’s footsteps.

    COURTESY PHOTO

    Lori Kwee, who is the 2021 Hawaii State Teacher of the Year, teaches at Ala Wai Elementary School, following her mother’s footsteps.

  • COURTESY HAWAII DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
                                Hawaii’s Teacher of the Year ceremony, normally held at Washington Place, was held virtually, as seen in this screenshot of the finalists.

    COURTESY HAWAII DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

    Hawaii’s Teacher of the Year ceremony, normally held at Washington Place, was held virtually, as seen in this screenshot of the finalists.

Lori Kwee, who encourages her fourth-graders at Ala Wai Elementary School to look for real-life problems and try to solve them, has been named the 2021 Hawai State Teacher of the Year.

“Lori has been instrumental in leading the way in showing how if we ignite student passion, students are so willing to take the lead and inspire those around them,” Principal Michelle DeBusca said. “It’s been just beautiful.”

Kwee, whose mother also taught at Ala Wai Elementary, will represent Hawaii in the National Teacher of the Year program next spring in Washington, D.C. She was chosen Friday from among 15 complex area teachers of the year and the charter school teacher of the year, on behalf of the state’s 13,000 public school educators.

The ceremony is usually hosted by the governor at Washington Place but was staged instead as a Facebook Live event due to the coronavirus pandemic. Each candidate had a chance to speak, from their homes or schools across the state, as supporters cheered them on with comments in the chat bar and floating hearts and other emoji.

A veteran of more than 30 years teaching in Hawaii’s public schools, Kwee is known for her empathy and grace, according to Ala Wai School librarian Jennifer Moku. She brings a fresh approach to each school year, asking students what they are curious about and creating an inquiry-based curriculum. They then tackle the project as a group and share it with others.

“The results of these student-led projects are astonishing,” Moku wrote in a letter of recommendation. “She truly changes the lives of all who are near her.”

The 16 top teachers each received an honorarium from Hawaiian Electric Co. Servco Pacific gave the winner a one-year lease of a 2021 Subaru Forester.

A blue-ribbon panel from outside the Department of Education handled the judging.

To watch the ceremony and hear from all the finalists, visit the Hawaii Public Schools’ Facebook page.

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