Reaching for the stars: Hookena teacher among 15 finalists for $100K grant

  • Hookena third grade teacher Leimamo Lind-Strauss engages students in a math lesson. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Hookena third grade teacher Leimamo Lind-Strauss engages students in a math lesson. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Hookena third grade teacher Leimamo Lind-Strauss engages students in a math lesson. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Hookena third grade teacher Leimamo Lind-Strauss engages students in a math lesson. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

HOOKENA — Hookena Elementary School third-grade teacher Leimamo Lind-Strauss wants her students to know science is all around them, from the stars above to the ocean around them.

“When they’re outside on the ocean and they’re sitting on a boat, then they’re like, ‘Oh, the ocean is malie, it’s calm; there’s no wind. How does that affect me? What is going on in nature?’ and observing,” she said. “That’s important, so that our kids can envision themselves in whatever practice they do — whatever they’re going to go move on to the future as — being scientists.”

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Lind-Strauss’s vision for the South Kona school has landed her among 15 finalists across the country — three of them from Hawaii — vying for the Thank America’s Teachers “Dream Big” Teacher Challenge sponsored by Farmers Insurance.

The 15 finalists were selected from among hundreds of proposals, according to a release from the state Department of Education.

Five winners, selected as the top vote-getters on the program website, will each win $100,000 for their ideas.

One vote can be cast per day for each finalist through Nov. 3 at www.farmers.com/thank-americas-teachers/vote-for-a-teacher. The winners of the $100,000 challenge will be announced in December.

The proposal from Hookena Elementary School is to create a STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and math — academy at the school with a campus observatory and telescope to give students access to the skies and stars, Lind-Strauss said.

More than just another classroom, Lind-Strauss said it’s an opportunity to build something for the school’s students as well as the whole community.

“It’s an opportunity to create a gathering place that we can build from, grow the love of science, math,” she said, “and not just within the students but also with the families.”

The school already has the telescope, which was donated a couple years ago by a South Kona man, said principal Nancy Jadallah, and the school has previously received a couple small grants for computer and software upgrades as well as curriculum.

If awarded one of the $100,000 grants, most of that money would go toward retrofitting an existing campus building to house the telescope.

Mary Beth Laychak, outreach program manager at Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, which is helping to identify curriculum and learning opportunities for the proposed STEAM academy, said the telescope, which has an 8-12-inch mirror, also has the advantage of having the ability to be controlled remotely. It offers numerous opportunities for students to learn about not only astronomy but all the technology that comes with it.

For Lind-Strauss, it’s an opportunity to give students a direct way to “touch, see, feel, hear whatever they’re learning,” and given the chance, she added, educators can spark a love of math and science in children.

Laychak said a campus observatory also can teach more than just astronomy, offering opportunities “in all aspects of technology,” such as engineering and working with computer programming.

And more than its value as an educational tool, it also encourages kids to look to the stars as to what their futures could hold.

“It lets kids see there’s something beyond South Kona,” said Jadallah.

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Not only is it about helping students build confidence in their own school and community, Lind-Strauss said, it also helps boost that same confidence in their own skills and potential, inspiring them to see the options and opportunities around them.

“Sometimes when you live in a small community, you don’t even think you have opportunities, because you’re like, ‘OK, Fujihara Store is there; ChoiceMart is there, and my life is everything in between,” she said. “This is like an opportunity to see all those things and access those things — dream.”

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