Math teacher can add $25K to honor
Under Yannabah Lewis' leadership, students at Kealakehe High School have fed the homeless, helped New Yorkers after the Sept. 11 attacks, victims of Hurricane Katrina and raised money to support schools in India.
So it was a fitting surprise, her colleagues say, when Lewis, a math and citizenship teacher at the Kailua-Kona school, received a $25,000 Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award yesterday in front of 1,600 students, faculty and administrators.
"She's most deserving of the award," said Principal Wilfred Murakami, who credits Lewis for devising the schools' curriculum and mission 10 years ago. "I view Yanna as the best example ... of what a public educator should be."
A graduate of Konawaena High, Lewis, 37, co-created "Citizenship First," a nationally recognized program in which students broadcast daily lessons on the ethics and philosophy of citizenship broadcast on closed circuit TV. Students attend the homeroom classes all four years of high school, and the segment they produce airs on public television.
"She's really, really committed to the concept behind the program," said co-creator David Huitt. "She considers this (award) not only just a reflection of herself, but of the overall school and what we are trying to do in providing the best education that we can."
Two of Lewis' students were recently selected by the Annenberg Foundation to travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with a U.S. Supreme Court justice, said Arthur Souza, complex area superintendent for Honokaa, Kealakehe, Kohala and Konawaena.
Through the Kealakehe Interact Club, which Lewis co-directs, students raised $8,000 to support two orphanages in southeast India in the last school year. She was also behind a Katrina fundraising event that raised about $9,000 and a project where students signed a quilt to honor 9/11 victims.
Kealakehe students also serve food to homeless people on Wednesday evenings and set up a relief station during the island's Ironman triathlon competition.
"What she does with her citizenship program and her consciousness about civic responsibility extended to the kids actually having an opportunity to exhibit that in the real world," Souza said. "She is just a very, very skilled educator."
He noted that Lewis' students regularly match or exceed the national average in the Advanced Placement Calculus exam.
"Math can be very dry, so you have to do something to get out of there. So you tell silly jokes or sing math songs," Lewis said, laughing.
Lewis, an Algebra II teacher who got a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Hawaii at Hilo, joined 66 Hawaii educators who have shared more than $1.6 million in Milken awards since 1990.
"I'll probably want to look at some charity to support, I have to think carefully," she said when asked about the poster-size check. "My students thought that I should either buy a Starbucks or buy them pizza."