As most Kaua‘i residents know, our schools face a critical shortage of local teachers. Many teaching positions are filled by off-island recruits, education assistants, emergency hires and long-term substitute teachers.
Growing Our Own Teachers on Kaua‘i is a nonprofit organization with an ultimate goal to be part of the solution to this critical problem.
We assist aspiring Kaua‘i teachers in completing their education and helping them launch their careers by offering them networking opportunities. We provide stipends to low-income applicants who are finishing the final semester of their educational programs. In return, we ask for a three-year commitment to teach on Kaua‘i. In this way, we have made a positive impact on our teacher shortage.
Since 2007, we have raised close to $250,000 through private donations and grants to enable 79 students to fulfill their educational goals to become teachers. Of those recipients, 88% are still teaching on Kaua‘i. That is a net increase of 69 teachers in classrooms around the island.
We initially focused on the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa’s education program and its satellite classes at Kaua‘i Community College. This program concentrates on the elementary-grade levels. These teacher candidates must student teach in their final semester, serving as full-time teachers without pay, creating lesson plans, teaching classes, grading students’ work, meeting regularly with advisors, etc.
It’s more than a full-time job. Therefore, most of these teacher candidates have to leave employment in order to successfully complete the final student-teaching semester, putting a hefty burden on their finances. Our stipends help with day-to-day expenses so they can focus on their studies.
We wanted to be sure we were addressing the areas with the most need.
After canvassing the principals of all our Kaua‘i public schools in 2019, we found a big shortage in special-education and secondary-school teachers.
We decided to extend our reach to include those teacher candidates.
So far this year, the nonprofit has funded six students to complete their degrees: Ira Lapitan, Marissa Hesapene, Kawika Wellington, Michelle Dennis, Leighton Medina and Kimi Nagahisa.
We are proud to report that they have all secured teaching jobs here on Kaua‘i.
Nagahisa, who will be a special-education teacher, summed up her thoughts when she said, “There are not enough words to express the gratitude I have for the Growing Our Own Teachers on Kaua‘i organization. In this time of uncertainty, this grant has not only made it possible for me to complete my schooling, but it has also lifted a heavy weight off of my shoulders.”
Helping our student teachers and partnering with other organizations to create networking opportunities and address this shortage in various ways are just part of the equation.
We need your support to continue our mission and to become Kaua‘i’s go-to funding source for future teachers. Small, nonprofit organizations like ours are the backbone of Kaua‘i, tackling issues critical to our unique community.
And, yet, we are one of the community’s best-kept secrets. By becoming more visible, we hope we can help even more students pursue their educational ambitions and graduate into a dream job of teaching our island youth.
Our intention is to be a part of the solution, and we hope our goal will inspire you to help us.
Nance Overton is vice president of Growing Our Own Teachers on Kaua‘i.