HONOLULU (KHON2) — The 2022 Hawaii State Teacher of the Year is now eyeing the national honor as one of the four finalists competing for the title.

According to the Hawaii Department of Education, the last time a Hawaii educator was a finalist for National Teacher of the Year was in 2015.

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Whitney Aragaki is a biology and environmental science teacher at Waiakea High School in Hilo — her alma mater — on the Big Island. She is one of many teachers across the United States recognized as an outstanding educator.

Out of 52 other educators honored as a state teacher of the year nationwide, Aragaki and three others were chosen as finalists for the 2022 National Teacher of the Year.

“In Hawaii, we are so fortunate to be in such a wonderful environment — the beaches, the forests, the mountains, the ocean and everything in between. So fortunate to learn from the land and learn from our oceans,” said Aragaki.

She uses cultural and placed-based activities to engage her students, as well as work to provide courses statewide in environmental science and computer science.

“In addition to the land, the stories, the mo’olelo that we have from our cultural knowledge is also so important, and we value that in our classrooms and this is something I want to elevate as a message nationally.”

Whitney Aragaki, 2022 Hawaii State Teacher of the Year

Aragaki has a Bachelor of Arts in biology from Swarthmore College and a Master of Science in tropical conservation biology and environmental science from the University of Hawaii (UH) at Hilo. She is currently working on a Doctor of Philosophy with a focus on curriculum and instruction at UH Manoa.

To view Aragaki’s Teacher of the Year application, click here.

According to the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), all four finalists will be interviewed by the National Teacher of the Year Selection Committee.

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The 2022 National Teacher of the Year will be announced in spring. After that, CCSSO reported the winner will spend the next year as an “ambassador for education and an advocate for all teachers and students.”