Obama Honors Two Japanese American Teachers


Seanyelle Yagi
Liane Tanigawa photos courtesy of the White House

Two Japanese American teachers from Hawai‘i were recently honored by President Barack Obama at the White House with Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

Liane Tanigawa and Seanyelle Yagi were among more than 100 educators from across the country who received awards from Obama on Jan. 6 as part of his “Educate to Innovate” Campaign for excellence in science, technology, engineering and math educaton.

In addition to the trip to the White House, the award recipients received $10,000 from the National Science Foundation.

According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Obama told the teachers at the White House ceremony, “I believe so strongly in the work that you do. And as I mentioned to some of you, because I’ve got two girls upstairs with math tests coming up, I figure that a little extra help from the best of the best couldn’t hurt.”

Tanigawa and Yagi said that the award represents a culmination of their efforts to help their students grow and flourish.

Tanigawa, an Aiea resident who is a math and science coach at Pearl Ridge Elementary School in Aiea, said in a White House statement, “For me, there’s no greater achievement than receiving the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. This award reaffirms my educational beliefs that learning should be engaging and meaningful. It also encourages me to continue sharing my love of teaching science with others.”

Yagi, a Honolulu resident who is a sixth-grade math teacher at Kalakaua Middle School in Honolulu, said in a White House statement, “I believe the Presidential Award celebrates the high expectations an educator sets for oneself as a teacher and learner of mathematics and science. I try to challenge myself to take risks and develop my pedagogical and content knowledge.

“The award represents what is possible when you push yourself to give students opportunities for individual growth and accomplishment. Most of all, the Presidential Award recognizes my love for teaching and learning,” she said.

Tanigawa, who has taught students in third through sixth grade, has a long history of leadership in curriculum development, and has served as a science mentor for other teachers.

Her students get to experience her passion for science through hands-on activities. She created Pearl Ridge Elementary’s robotics program, as part of which her students competed in the first Lego League robotics competition. She then expanded the program and incorporated robotics into the fifth grade science curriculum.

Tanigawa has a bachelor’s in medical technology and a professional diploma in elementary education from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.

Yagi previously taught kindergarten through fifth grade math at Ka’ewai Elementary School in Honolulu and served as a mentor to new teachers prior to teaching sixth grade math at Kalakaua Middle School. While at Ka’ewai Elementary, she organized the school’s first Family Math Night.

Yagi has a bachelor’s in elementary education. She also has a master’s in elementary education from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.

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