2 ISLE TEACHERS, 2 STYLES
WIN $25,000 MILKEN AWARDS
Farrington’s Davis, Waipahu’s Matsumoto are stunned
Science teachers Bebi Davis of Farrington High School and Carl Matsumoto of Waipahu High have highly contrasting styles -- she's a bit of a taskmaster, he's a bit of a cut-up even in his own class.
But they share a common gift for motivating students through the use of creative projects and gentle pressure to be their best.
Now they have something else in common: Matching $25,000 checks as Hawaii's winners of the 2006 Milken Family Foundation awards for outstanding educators.
"I'm just in shock. I don't know what to say other than to promise that I will keep working hard for you," a lei-bedecked Davis tearfully told an assembly of Farrington students yesterday after being surprised with the prestigious award.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Farrington High School teacher Bebi Davis hugged Vice Principal Leonore Higa after yesterday's presentation at the school announcing Davis as one of two Hawaii recipients of the 2006 Milken Family Foundation awards.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Among those congratulating Waipahu High teacher Carl Matsumoto yesterday were his grandmother Chiyoko Matsumoto and, in back from left, uncles Kiyoshi Shigesuji and Glen Matsumoto, and parents May and Barton Matsumoto.
The foundation annually honors teachers and principals who further excellence in education, and Hawaii's winners couldn't have been better-chosen, colleagues and students said.
Davis, who hails from Guyana originally, teaches 11th- and 12th-grade physics and chemistry, and constantly challenges students by answering their questions with more questions of her own, forcing them to probe and experiment for the answers themselves.
"If you just tell them the answer, they don't learn anything. They have to find out on their own," she said.
Her slim frame and girlish voice belie a tough-love approach aimed at keeping students on track. But she wields the carrot along with the stick.
"The carrot is the belief that Farrington students can be just as good as those at other schools," said her principal Catherine Payne, who added that Davis sought out and acquired for her students the same physics text used at Punahou School.
Under her guidance, Farrington students have attained regular success in recent years in science contests, including victory in a state battle-bot robotics competition in January and a state title in a model bridge-building competition.
"I know I'm not always the easiest to work with but you'll thank me someday," she told her students.
Too true, said James Simon, a 2004 graduate who was once a "slacker" at Farrington. However, Davis' cajoling fired an interest in science and he's now attending Kapiolani Community College, with plans to attend the University of Hawaii medical school.
"She was so persistent, working with me one-to-one a lot. She always told me I can do better and I did," Simon said.
Matsumoto, meanwhile, is known as the "Energizer bunny" on Waipahu's campus for his wide-ranging contributions, said his Principal Patricia Pederson.
Besides teaching ninth-grade science, he chairs the department, leads a self-contained "learning community" for incoming freshman, and works with English and P.E. teachers to devise projects that creatively combine their various lessons.
The UH zoology baccalaureate also is helping to run a high-tech tissue-genesis facility on the campus and helped develop "Club Med" a school club for students interested in pursuing medical careers. He's also the junior varsity basketball coach and assistant varsity coach.
In each endeavor, he brings an infectiously lighthearted approach that makes you want to be in his class, students say. One student who drew a blank when asked what "precipitation" meant was shown the meaning with a blast from Matsumoto's water bottle.
"But though you're laughing, you realize that you're also learning, he's always getting the point across. He's a great teacher," said sophomore Raymond Ngo.
Matsumoto, who high-fived his way past several cheering students at Waipahu High to accept the award from Superintendent Pat Hamamoto, said the school's "great kids" are his motivation and that honesty, not humor, is his most important teaching tool.
"You've got to be honest with them and tell everyone that they always need to do their best and nothing less," he said.
Students say those communication lines are particularly valuable to incoming freshman in Matsumoto's "Focus on Freshman" class, designed to help ease the daunting transition to a large high school.
"It's intimidating coming here, but he made ninth grade less scary," Ngo said.
Davis, who also teaches at Kapiolani and Honolulu community colleges and is working on a doctorate in education at UH, stays busy partly "to prevent me from going shopping," a strategy likely to be strained by the $25,000 prize money.
However, neither of the stunned winners had plans yet on how to use the money, which is theirs to spend as they choose.
"I have no idea. I've never had more than $1,000 in my checking account my whole life," Matsumoto said.