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The Hawaiian word kahiau means “to give generously or freely from the heart without expecting anything in return.”

For Erin Regua, Class of 2021 Dean, kahiau aptly describes her colleagues.

“It’s about going above and beyond,” explains Regua. “And that means taking extra time to sit and talk with a student, connecting with their families or doing whatever it takes to support them without expecting any recognition.”

Teachers, the unsung heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic, have been identified by the White House and state and local governments as essential workers. And at Mid-Pacific, through the arduous months of this global crisis, one thing is clear – faculty members have soared high above the challenge of carrying out the educational mission despite extraordinary obstacles in their paths.

The pandemic’s consequences – from school closures to virtual learning to the safe return to campus – affected how Mid-Pacific’s educational philosophy would be carried out. But it has made the commitment to the concept of Deeper Learning even more profound in preparing students for life beyond high school.

“Twenty years from now, students who are graduating this year, in 2021, will be the decisionmakers,” says President Paul Turnbull. “We are teaching them how to think and problem solve – beyond the curriculum, but also around relationships and the broader community reaching across networks to find deeper solutions to problems.”

Models of Hope

The COVID-19 crisis began on March 11, 2020, and the school community rallied together working behind the scenes day and night to address immediate issues and to prepare Mid-Pacific for the new normal which meant virtual classes and the eventual return to the classroom.

“When our teachers stepped in front of their students in the fall, they were ready and focused knowing they are models of hope, inspiration and positivity,” explains Preschool/Elementary School Principal Edna Hussey. “I can almost guarantee every teacher came to school with a little bit of fear, but the bigger goal of educating students couldn’t be sacrificed – they did this, all while managing their personal lives and their own families during the pandemic.”

Preschool Teacher Robynne (Kurihara) Migita ’92 says when the preschool was forced to go virtual last spring, she and her colleagues were committed to not think of it as a limitation and strived to change the situation from helpless to hopeful.

“We shifted the focus on fear to empowerment for our preschoolers in order for them to feel they could help. That feeling of hope is new to young children,” Migita explains. “So we explored this idea of hope and were touched how the children found ways to connect with people beyond their families. Through virtual guidance, they created positive messages and placed them on their gates and windows at home to share their hope and good wishes for those beyond their households.”

Migita, who earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and master’s degree in Education at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, says teaching allows her to pursue her passions of working with children, caring for others, learning and making a difference in the world.

She says she feel honored to be surrounded by colleagues who are amazing thinkers and are full of empathy for others.

“They are open to new ideas and perspectives, wanting to help and work together to problem solve,” she says. “They see challenges as something exciting and not problematic.”

Making Lemonade out of Lemons

Creative approaches to education sprouted everywhere in the virtual campus fostered by the commitment and passion of the faculty.

“Our teachers made lemonade out of lemons,” says Middle and High School Principal Dee Priester.

Photography students ventured out into the field capturing images depicting their observations and emotions during the pandemic. The music department orchestrated a series of virtual performances through meticulous audio editing of individual student performances. Drama students thrived with performances while science teachers taught students how to conduct experiments from home using common household products.

“Through the virtual classroom, Middle School Science Teacher Annette Lee told her students to go into their kitchens and put various ingredients like vinegar and salt together,” Priester explains. “That’s real world. It made learning come alive for them and inspired curiosity while nurturing the desire to learn. That lightbulb that goes off in a student’s mind is fire for a teacher.”

When art class went virtual, the silver lining for High School Visual Arts Teacher Jill Johnson was that students were even more inspired to create while stuck at home.

“We coordinated a drive-through where the kids could pick up their materials because we didn’t want them to rely on what they had from home,” she explains. “They would log in to Zoom, we’d discuss the assignment, leave Zoom on as they worked on their projects, come back after 30 minutes and show what they created.

Johnson says she believes the alternative teaching format pushed students to be more independent and more prolific, as well.

Passion Burns Bright

As a child, Middle School Technology Teacher Jana Kaopuiki says she envisioned being a Disney Imagineer when she grew up. But the Stanford graduate discovered that teaching was her calling.

“I have this creative sense of wonder that I hope to never lose,” she says. “I needed a job to cultivate my creative self and where I could be just as creative as a student.”

Teaming up with other teachers to lead students through bringing their ideas to life fulfills that passion for her.

“The best part of my job is being with the students,” says Kaopuiki. “I’m so inspired by the work that my co-workers and students are doing together. I’m always thinking of the work even outside the classroom.”

Kaopuiki says she’s grateful for Mid-Pacific’s philosophy of Deeper Learning and knowing she has the freedom and flexibility to take a project in a different direction depending on the direction her students are taking it.

“I’m most fulfilled as a teacher when former students come back to tell me about something they learned in my class,” she reflects. “What may seem like a small teachable moment to me is often an extremely impactful moment for them.”

Kaopuiki says the community of teachers who are willing to go above and beyond for their co-workers is a rarity in the workplace, but at Mid-Pacific, teamwork is in full-force cultivated across departments and subject matter.

Prior to coming to Mid-Pacific, Middle School PE Teacher Kevin O’Connell’s life was all about teamwork. The former basketball coach at Washington University in Saint Louis, the University of Chicago and the University of Southern California graduate met his future wife, a Kailua girl, in college, and the couple moved to Hawaiʻi. He left his college coaching career behind, but the concept of teamwork remained an integral part of his life.

“Our administration promotes working together,” says O’Connell. “Every time that I have worked with another teacher, I have left the room with more respect for what they do and who they are. It’s because they care. They’ve come prepared and are willing to step up. I’ve never felt alone here and I know that I can count on my colleagues.”

O’Connell says he always identified himself as a college basketball coach but a chapel lesson by Chaplain Kahu Wendell Davis about 10 years ago opened his eyes.

“One of the quotes that Kahu used was ‘your place in the world is where your happiness meets what the world needs – and where that merges is your place,’” reflects O’Connell. “It took me awhile to figure out where my place was. But I know it’s to help students feel good about themselves and for them to be fit and healthy. I want to give energy back to them and inspire them.”

Innovation and Flexibility

Innovation and flexibility are key components in Deeper Learning and the need for teachers to embrace these characteristics were key during the pandemic.

“I have seen our teachers leaning into discomfort during this time,” says Leigh Fitzgerald, vice president of academic affairs. “There is frustration and feelings of being overwhelmed – but you never hear, ‘I can’t do it.’ Instead you hear, ‘can you help me?’ followed by a colleague or administrator responding, ‘let me help you.’”

Fitzgerald says when in-person classes resumed, parents were able to choose on-campus or remote learning.

“Our teachers are in their classrooms with students along with safety protocols, as well as engaging with students on Zoom,” she explains. “They’ve figured out how to conduct group work and have students who are attending virtually, work with in-class lab partners. That’s innovation and flexibility.”

Grades 1 and 2 Multiage Teacher Coral Balubar believes teachers can teach in any set of circumstances, but she has a great appreciation that there has been a return to the classroom.

“It’s hard when you’re attached to things that you would normally do before the pandemic,” she reflects. “For instance, I love teaching the children when they come to the rug – it’s an area in the library area where I would teach reading. There is something cozy and intimate when they come to the rug and you are so in tune with their learning – being able to determine what they understand and what they don’t understand. And we can’t do that for now.”

But Balubar says it’s just a matter of reworking things. For instance, mele (Hawaiian songs) and `oli (Hawaiian chants) are still done every morning, but from their individual seats. Singing is not allowed inside the classroom, so students hum the mele indoors. A few times a week they are able to sing outside.

“It’s humbling for all of us in a good way,” says Balubar. “Even showing your vulnerability to the children is a good way to show them that if something doesn’t work, it’s OK. We’ll try to come up with a different way to do it.”

With social distancing rules in place, Migita says the hardest thing she has had to adapt to is not being able to offer hugs.

“We don’t say you can’t hug, but it’s not as frequent,” she explains. “If they want a hug, we hug them back, but we are not able to freely give them hugs all the time. We find ways to still connect with them even when our masks hide our smiles. An extra squint of the eye or taking extra time to listen helps, and, of course, we can still say, ‘I love you.’ COVID hasn’t taken that away from us.”

Migita says the preschoolers still say a daily prayer expressing gratefulness.

“Hardly a day goes by when they don’t say they are thankful for Mid-Pacific, their teachers, family and friends. It’s amazing how long their lists can be. It’s one of the best parts of the day for me.”

Embracing the Mission

Honoring the individual student and embracing the mission of Mid-Pacific is a team effort with the teachers leading the charge, particularly through the COVID-19 pandemic. They represent and embody the core values of ‘ohana, diversity, innovation, creativity and caring.

Our teachers are at the top of their game and experts in their fields. They have the ability to look beyond the silos and into the horizon to see other faculty members as partners. Most importantly, they have heart. All of that makes for a very special place.

“Not only did our teachers put out a Herculean effort to modify their practice from in person to online, but they did it with poise and grace – showing that they had another gear when it came to their perseverance and ability to find the energy that most of us didn’t think we had,” says Turnbull. “Our teachers are at the top of their game and experts in their fields. They have the ability to look beyond the silos and into the horizon to see other faculty members as partners. Most importantly, they have heart. All of that makes for a very special place.”

By Stacy Yuen