(BIVN) – A teacher at Keaʻau Elementary School has been recognized as the Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association’s STACY Award for Teaching Excellence recipent for 2023.
Fifth grade inclusion teacher Daphna Ehrenhalt earned “one of the highest honors bestowed by the association” and was recognized at the HSTA’s annual state convention on Saturday, April 22.
HSTA says the STACY Award for Teaching Excellence recognizes a teacher who demonstrates leadership, dedication, and passion in five categories: scholarship, teaching, advocacy, community, and youth.
From the HSTA:
S is for scholarship. Ehrenhalt has been a professional development instructor for five years. They lead by example, inspiring colleagues to collaborate and support each other to be the best educators for their keiki.
Ehrenhalt said, “I’ve worked with many of our teachers here, on doing the SIQ, the sheltered instruction qualification, and getting them TESOL-certified so that they could, you know, be on task for when that deadline, which did get moved, but like they could be, they were on it. They were ready to go, and then helping them reclassify.”
Kate Wood, Keaʻau Elementary fifth grade teacher, said, “She’s super fun. She is a champion for HSTA. She’s so good about keeping everybody in the loop. And if you have a problem or questions about it, you can go to her and ask her. She’s very informative. She doesn’t know the answer, she’ll find it out for you. She’s really a good cheerleader in that regard.”
T is for teaching. As an inclusion teacher, Ehrenhalt adjusts lessons on the fly to ensure every student can learn. They believe teaching is an art, not an exact science, and involves differentiating instruction and building on schema.
Jasmine DeSoto, Keaʻau Elementary special education teacher, said, “She’s highly dynamic and really, really busy, so you feel that energy when you come into her room. She’s working with all different students, either independent like one on one or she’s running small groups. She has educational assistants in the room as well. So she’s helping to manage what they’re doing. She’s a great instructor.”
A is for advocacy. Ehrenhalt is Keaʻau Elementary’s HSTA head faculty representative, and has served on the HSTA Human and Civil Rights Committee for three years. They helped develop Transgender 101 for Educators, a workshop on how to support transgender youth. Ehrenhalt is non-binary, uses the pronouns she/they, and works to ensure every student feels safe, happy, and loved.
Andréa Platt, Keaʻau Elementary fifth grade teacher, said, “She’s made it a better place for me to be a teacher and support my students in more ways, helping me create safe spaces in the classroom for my own students, for within my own family. Just helping me become a better teacher by knowing more and knowing more about the questions I can ask to better support students and always academically and socially.”
C is for community. Ehrenhalt serves on the board of Hawaiʻi Island LGBTQ+ Pride. They’ve put together safe space kits, delivered hundreds of LGBTQ-friendly books to classrooms and libraries, and organized holiday toy drives for the East Hawaiʻi Family Guidance Center.
Ehrenhalt said, “Our whole team is dedicated to making sure that the community is safe, and the community is a community, that we hold events where people feel safe and protected, and they can be themselves.”
Joleen Nactor, Keaʻau Elementary fifth grade teacher, said, “All the things that she shares with us in our grade level meetings, and even just silos on the side at lunch or anything like that. I’m like gosh, that sounds awesome.”
Y is for youth. Before the pandemic, Ehrenhalt taught American Sign Language after school so students who were deaf or hard of hearing could feel included. They also partnered with a colleague to form Kinder Buddies, a reading group that allows kindergarteners and fifth graders to connect and grow together.
DeSoto, a colleague of Ehrenhalt, said, “Daphna brings a lot of energy and organization to the classroom. She pre-plans — it’s a lot of hours after school teaching — to put together her lessons. She wants to make sure her students are reflecting all of the time, so whether it’s reflecting in the morning to talk about fun questions that she’s designed, or if they’re related to actual curriculum, she’s doing that.”
Ehrenhalt said, “We’re looking towards our future, and we want it to be bright. So the more I can do in my classroom to make my students feel wanted and accepted and loved, and become a productive member of society, then that makes my future brighter. I mean, it sounds selfish, but it’s also, it makes everybody’s future brighter, and that’s what I want.”
HSTA’s award for teaching excellence program was established to celebrate the outstanding work of the late Stacy Nishina, an outstanding public school teacher and longtime staff member of HSTA. As the recipient of this year’s award, Ehrenhalt will be HSTA’s nominee for the NEA Foundation’s Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence and NEA Member Benefits Award.