Two Hawaii teachers received the surprise of a lifetime Thursday.
Momilani Elementary School teacher Masaru Uchino and President Thomas Jefferson Elementary School teacher Kelly Sutcliffe each received a $25,000 Milken Educator Award, known as "the Oscars of teaching."
Hawaii Governor David Ige and First Lady Dawn Amano-Ige joined Milken Family Foundation Chairman and Co-Founder Lowell Milken to present the awards at each school.
According to the Milken Educator Awards, Uchino is a third-grade math teacher whose "dynamic teaching methods captivate students, parents and colleagues with his creative ways of instruction." He worked for a Japanese automotive racing parts manufacturer before entering the classroom, brings real-world STEM experience to his students.
Uchino also writes, produces, choreographs, scores and directs the annual third-grade drama production, which is aligned with state standards and reveals a positive social message with plots like Guardians of the GLO Crystals and Kingdoms of the Water Cycles. He also incorporates technology into the student journalism club, in which members research local stories and produce video podcasts that are distributed on the school's network server and blog.
"Working in international business before education, Masaru Uchino appreciates the skills needed to compete in a fast-paced global economy," said Lowell Milken. "Thanks to Masaru's high level of preparation, his students are on a pathway to become the innovators and visionaries of the future."
Sutcliffe is a fourth-grade teacher whose "student-centered approach promotes creative teamwork, leadership and problem-solving within a culture of respect as students study together to present their work and help teach the class."
Sutcliffe believes learning means solving problems in the real world. For a unit on rising temperatures, she asked students to design and build portable air-conditioning units using the Engineering Design Process (EDP) and low-cost materials like foam coolers, PVC piping and ice cubes. She also used a STEM materials grant from Veggie U, a Hawaii state educational program focused on agriculture and sustainable farming, to incorporate the school's vermicomposting center into science classes.
She serves as facilitator as students quiz each other on multiplication problems, write problems on the whiteboard, share geometric drawings, and monitor each other's behavior. Students choose among learning centers and small groups, with Sutcliffe tying lessons to students' personal interests to keep them engaged.
"Kelly Sutcliffe motivates her students to 'be the best you can be!' and achieve increasingly higher results. This performance-driven mindset imbues a sense of purpose and preparation for the challenges of the future," said Milken.
This season marks the 30th year of the Milken Educator Awards. Uchino and Sutcliffe are among up to 35 honorees who will receive this national recognition for 2016-17.