Hard work pays off for top isle teacher


POSTED: Friday, October 02, 2009

HAVING GROWN up in a small rice farming family in Thailand, Wima Chulakote knows the importance of education and of determination to achieve academic goals.

Once in Hawaii, he struggled to learn English as an adult, he recalled. But his studies paid off.

Yesterday, Chulakote, 54, a mathematics teacher for five years at Olomana School, was named the 2010 State Teacher of the Year.

His school in Windward Oahu teaches students who have fallen behind in credits or have attendance problems.

In addition to teaching seventh to 12th grade, Chulakote works as a volunteer tutor in mathematics, helping people pass their tests for the general equivalency diploma for high school, school officials said.





        District teachers of the year received $500 in cash from the Polynesian Cultural Center and instructional software from SMARTer Kids Foundation of Canada. Honored as district teachers of the year are:

» Christine Ho, Farrington High School.


» Julia Rose LoPresti, Aiea Intermediate School.


» Kathy Lin, Highlands Intermediate School.


» Samantha Funes, Keonepoko Elementary School.


» Emily Haines-Swatek, King Kekaulike High School.


» Crystal Ishida, Kekaha Elementary School.


Source: Department of Education




His volunteer tutoring happens after school, sometimes late at night, officials said.

During yesterday's ceremony at the state Capitol auditorium, Chulakote took the opportunity to thank the people of the United States.

“;Your country gave me the freedom to be here,”; he said. “;You saved Thailand from being taken over by the communists, and I thank you for that.”;

Now a U.S. citizen, Chulakote said his selection means a lot to him because of his immigrant background, and he hopes it will send a message to students that success can come with determination and hard work.

Chulakote said he was grateful to the late Honolulu resident Kenneth Watts, an Air Force contractor in Thailand who sponsored his educational stay in the Philippines and Hawaii.

Chulakote said even after receiving a teaching degree in Thailand, he struggled in Hawaii, going to language classes at Kapiolani Community College.

With persistence he earned business administration and education degrees from the University of Hawaii.

As part of his prize, Chulakote received $1,500 from the Polynesian Cultural Center and a one-year lease on a four-door 2010 Kia Soul, sponsored by Aloha Kia and the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association.

As Hawaii's Teacher of the Year, he qualifies for selection as National Teacher of the Year.

Chulakote is married to Mira Soekias, a teacher at Fern Elementary School in Kalihi, and has two sons.