LIHUE — One Kauai High School educator is being recognized for her hard work preparing students for careers in hospitality.
Business teacher Charlene Navarro received the Hospitality Educator of the Year Award when Hawaii’s hospitality industry honored the best-of-the-best of its employees at the 28th annual Na Poe Paahana (The Hard-Working People) Awards.
Nearly a thousand employees, family members and industry representatives from throughout the state gathered for the luncheon ceremony, sponsored by the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort on Jan. 11.
“It’s good to be recognized for my efforts in teaching, and the impact I’ve made on the community,” Navarro said.
The 55-year-old Kalaheo resident has been educating youth for more than three decades at Kauai High School, starting the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism at the school in 1992.
Now the program provides student internships within the community through supporters such as the Grand Hyatt Kuai Resort & Spa, Hawaiian Airlines, the island’s Marriott resorts at Kauai Beach Kalanipuu and Waiohai Beach Club, and Mark’s Place, to name a few.
“Our students go out there, work in the industry, get some experience and come back,” Navarro said. “Then they are more focused for college, and more prepared.”
One of the components of the academy is a Host 101 course offered by Kauai Community College for free early college credit.
Students are also gearing up for a field trip with LEI (Leadership Exploration Inspiration) sponsored by ClimbHI in April to visit hotel properties and receive mentorship, in addition to a familiarization trip to visitor destinations on Oahu and the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
“Teaching the students that we’re unique and have the aloha spirit is something special,” Navarro said. “No other destination can emulate what we have here, so they’re the best people to be working in the industry.”
One of the goals of the Early College program is to have students graduate with a degree or certificate from KCC.
Navarro finds it fun and challenging to keep up with the constantly changing hospitality industry, but she also enjoys working with the same students for three years, building relationships and seeing them go off to college and working in the community.
“It’s rewarding and fulfilling to see that I had an impact on these students,” she said. “Through hard work and initiative, you can become whatever you want to be.”
The enthusiastic educator is quick to point out that the success of the students and the program are the reasons why she received recognition from HLTA. The school’s administration has been supportive of the program and helped obtain essential grants, she said.
“Mrs. Navarro does so much for the kids. You can’t find any teacher job description for what she does,” said Kauai High School business teacher Greg Anderson. “The things she does for these kids and the opportunities she makes available is outstanding. It’s a well-deserved award that should have been given to her years and years ago.”
Recipients of HLTA’s accolades are selected based on nominations submitted by supervisors and co-workers, and are judged on the basis of outstanding and exceptional service to lodging guests, co-workers and the community.
“We’re very proud to recognize the people who are the heart and soul of our visitor industry,” said Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of HLTA. “They number in the tens of thousands across the state, and this year we have been able to recognize 60 of the finest individuals.”
This year’s other award winners and runners-up from Kauai include Rodney Young from Marriott’s Waiohai Beach Club; Ferdinand Lagundino, Janine Pagador and Mark Pasion from Lawai Beach Resort; Ben Simao and Shawn Uyeda from Marriott’s Kauai Lagoons-Kalanipuu; and Nancy Dearborn and Shawn Maxwell from The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas.
“All of the Na Poe Paahana honorees embody the aloha spirit at work and in the community, and we cannot be more thankful for their contributions to the success of our industry,” Hannemann said.