2023 Hawai‘i Private School Guide: They Felt a Calling to Return to Their Alma Maters—This Time as Teachers
Coming Full Circle.
Walking through the halls of your alma mater can feel strange, especially if you’re returning after years away. It’s even more surreal if you’re back on campus as a teacher, working alongside those who used to grade your papers and maybe even scold you in the hallways.
We chatted with six private school teachers on O‘ahu, Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i Island who wound up returning to their former schools. While some of their paths were straightforward, others had more zigzagging journeys. But for all, being back on familiar ground feels like destiny.
‘Ohana of Teachers
Erika Orimoto is what folks at Maryknoll School call a “lifer”— a student who attended Maryknoll from preschool through high school. A 2008 graduate, Orimoto played volleyball, and when she wasn’t on the courts, she loved watching CSI: Las Vegas. Seeing crimes being solved sparked her interest in studying forensic science at Chaminade University, although she ultimately couldn’t see pursuing that as a career.
She realized upon reflection that teaching brought her joy—and that it was also her family’s legacy. (Her mother was a teacher’s aide at St. Clement’s School, her sister is a professor of public health at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and her two cousins teach at Maryknoll.)
In 2021, she accepted a job as a high school science, AP chemistry and forensic science teacher at Maryknoll. “Sometimes, my sister and I will talk about our students, and she’ll jokingly tell me, ‘Make sure you teach your kids these things before they get to UH Mānoa!’” Orimoto says with a laugh.
What Orimoto finds particularly amusing is that her former chemistry teacher is now her partner in the classroom. “I remember telling him, ‘I bet you didn’t think I would ever teach chemistry,’” she says. “I still feel like a student here, even though I’m now an employee.”
She’s inspired by former teachers who saw past her grades, which she says weren’t straight A’s. “My favorite teachers were the ones I had when I was in middle school. They took the extra time to sit down with me and made me feel capable of doing so much more,” she says. “Two of them are retired now, and one is my co-worker. It’s amazing how much of an impact that they had on me, and I try my best to be that for my kids.”
Side by Side with Her Mentor
‘Alohi De Lima arrived as a student at Kamehameha Schools on Hawai‘i Island in 2003 during a milestone moment. It was the first time the school was staging a musical. In 10th grade, De Lima played the role of Bet in Oliver! and thanks to her teacher, Mr. Eric Stack, she fell in love with drama. “I loved the camaraderie of everyone involved in being backstage, performing and putting together the production,” she says. “The whole process was so invigorating.”
After graduating, she studied biology at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo and simultaneously took drama classes. But when she was required to add more science courses, she had to cut out drama. “I missed it so much that I’d walk through the theater to get to my car,” she says. With her longing persisting, she decided to change her major to performing arts and communication. “I realized drama and musical theater brought my soul alive,” she says.
Upon earning her degree, De Lima spent about five years in Washington, teaching music to elementary students. She enjoyed the experience, but she wanted to return home, so when a teaching position opened up at Kamehameha, she jumped at the opportunity. Now she’s working side by side with her former mentor, Mr. Stack. “It took me a little while to get used to the fact that we are peers now!” she says. “He’s been very supportive and let me know that eventually this will be my program. He’s allowed me to mold and shape it, and I’m excited I can take it to where I want it to be.”
De Lima has big plans for the theater program. “We want this school to be the center for Native Hawaiian theater,” she says. “I want to provide a platform for Hawaiian authors to show plays in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, where they can see their plays come to fruition.”
This spring she planned the school hō‘ike, Kamehameha’s annual theatrical showcase. The event is called Pai‘ea, a punk rock opera that tells the story of King Kamehameha from his birth. “It’s been the most amazing experience to have started theater here, being in the first musical that [Kamehameha Schools Hawai‘i] ever did, and to be back as the director and directing musicals,” De Lima says. “Bringing the arts alive for other students is just such an amazing joy.”
Brotherhood for Life
From caring for reptiles at Honolulu Zoo to teaching English in a small village in Japan, Timothy Los Baños explored a variety of opportunities before returning to Saint Louis School as a teacher. He believes his diverse experiences benefit his students. “I’d teach the kids life skills along with academics, like how to choose a good banana—something I learned as a produce manager,” he says. “When we saw a turtle crawl out of Pālolo Stream, I taught them how to handle it properly.”
A 1978 graduate, Los Baños arrived at Saint Louis as a freshman. “There was, and still is, a sense of brotherhood at the school,” he says. “This sense of someone looking out for you—it’s something you have to experience to understand.”
It was Mrs. Faye Murata, one of the first female teachers at the school, who sparked his interest in learning Japanese. A fan of the Japanese television show Kikaida, Los Baños had picked up some of the language on his own during high school, before Murata noticed his interest and encouraged him to take Japanese.
Los Baños’ love for the language and Japan stayed with him. After working for a few years as a reptile keeper at Honolulu Zoo, he pursued Asian studies at UH Mānoa, applied for the Japan Exchange Teaching program and taught English in Kumamoto, Japan. “Mrs. Murata kept in touch with me the whole time I was in Japan, and one day told me that there was an opening at Saint Louis as an ESL teacher,” he recalls. “I meant to just teach for one year but ended up staying. This was in fall of 1992, and I’m still here!”
During his tenure, Los Baños has taught social studies, world history and Japanese, and launched the school’s Philippine Heritage Club. He eventually became dean of academics and vice principal. Alongside his administrative duties, Los Baños still wanted a presence in the classroom, so he continues to teach a Filipino language class. “I have to keep one foot in there so that I can get to know the students,” he says. “I tell the kids if I ever say, ‘When I was a student …’ they automatically get extra credit.”
Lifelong Global Mindset
Alex Sisson remembers the emphasis on global culture while attending Montessori Community School from kindergarten through fifth grade. “All of our non-
English and nonmath studies were called cultural studies,” she says.
Now a teacher at the school, Sisson is carrying on the global message. “Instead of [pushing] racial diversity and tolerance, we just normalize the environment where they can hear about different countries,” she says. “It’s education from the perspective of different communities.”
Sisson says the school’s focus on peacemaking and resolving conflict paved the way for her international pursuits. After graduating from ‘Iolani, she studied in Berlin, and worked with refugees and for the United Nations. But the more she worked in international development, the more she longed for a career in the classroom. “It was frustrating to be in a room full of adults who come from the richest countries and don’t have the same idea that everyone deserves the same rights,” she says. “I realized the kids are the next generation, and they need to do a better job than we have. That means teaching children how important it is for everyone to have these same rights.”
Sisson has taught at Montessori Community School since 2020. It was surreal at first to be teaching alongside her former teachers and even today, it’s a hard habit to stop calling her co-workers “Mr.” and “Mrs.” But returning to her alma mater has given her more appreciation for her former teachers and a desire to share the same kindness and patience with her own students. “What better way to come back to school and pay homage to my own education?” she says.
Paying the Love Forward
Ariel Kishimoto has fond childhood memories of watching her auntie prepare lessons for her first grade class. The two of them used to spend a lot of time gluing papers, preparing lessons and laminating pages. “I used to always say I wanted to be just like my auntie when I grow up,” Kishimoto says.
In seventh grade in fall 2006, Kishimoto started attending Hawai‘i Baptist Academy. “The friends I made lasted beyond high school,” she says. “And I loved my teachers.”
One history teacher, Mrs. Lynne Nakano, had a lasting impact on her. “I didn’t do well on a paper, and she called me in and sat down with me to work through the paper,” she recalls. “I was amazed that she was taking time to help me to get a better grade. Once we did that, I resubmitted my paper, and she gave me an average of the grades. Just that love that she gave me made a huge impact.”
Her memories of Mrs. Nakano stayed with her. “I realized that if I took the time to focus and try my best, I would be able to do better. That’s why I decided to sit in front during my senior year math class, take notes every day and pay attention, because I knew that the effort I put in was important.”
When Kishimoto became a mother, she realized teaching was what she wanted to do for a living. She worked at public schools before accepting a job at HBA as a first grade teacher. She now hopes to emulate Mrs. Nakano’s love for her students. “I do my best to get invested in their lives and be a loving teacher,” she says. “One of my students today told me three times that he is so excited because it’s his soccer game on Saturday. I love that I’m involved like that and can hear what makes them happy.”
Ahead of His Time
Along with the adjustment of moving to Hawai‘i from Vermont as a young boy, Teddy Rose remembers walking into English class at Island School on Kaua‘i, and being expected to sit at a round table with his classmates and take part in challenging discussions. It was his teacher’s idea, Mr. Jim Bray.
“He was tall, with a big white beard and round clear spectacles,” Rose says. “He always wore an aloha shirt, which softened the tone from otherwise intimidating roundtable discussions. The experience taught me how to participate in meaningful discussions as a class. I appreciated that, because when I went to college, there were kids who had never done discussion-based coursework before. It put me ahead.”
After graduating from Island School in 2012, Rose went on to study education and political science in Canada. During college, he took an elective computer science course and became interested in coding and programming. “I became kind of a nerd,” he says.
That led to several tech jobs around the world, including in Berlin, but he never stopped looking for work back on Kaua‘i. He was thrilled to eventually see a job posting to lead the technology program at Island School. “I knew I wanted to be a teacher,” he says. “I credit it to having good teachers.”
He now teaches technology to students from elementary grades through high school and hopes to create a technology track from middle school through high school. He also wants to rebuild the school’s robotics program. As a teacher, his philosophy is simple: “I want to make them care about learning,” Rose says.
Reflecting on 20 Years
We asked school leaders and a parent to tell us what’s changed most significantly in education over the past two decades.
“Over the past 20 years, the shifting landscape of higher education, dramatic changes in the nature of work, and global challenges to prosperity, security and sustainability have all led Punahou to place a strong emphasis on inquiry-led learning and the ability of our students to learn, adapt, relearn and innovate. Their ability to collaborate across cultural borders and work in teams has also become vitally important. These are the skills and mindsets that will serve them well for the rest of their lives and enable them to contribute in meaningful ways to their communities.”
—Mike Latham, president, Punahou School
“Perhaps the biggest change that I’ve seen in education over the past 20 years has been how technology has made it easier to collaborate but harder to connect. Email, Google Docs and Zoom have allowed students and teachers to work seamlessly together across any distance, and yet, I find myself missing the afternoon Math League practices and the evening Science Fair Project Pizza Parties—events that brought students, parents and teachers together to work and ‘talk story.’ As schools, we need to be much more intentional about creating times to connect as we look toward the next 20 years.”
—Nathan Yoshida, vice principal, Windward Nazarene Academy
Being a part of a tight-knit community is one of the qualities Maryknoll alumna and parent Cheri Konn Badua values most about Maryknoll School. Her children, Maddy and Jacob, are third-generation Spartans; her parents, Jeff and Liane Konn, graduated in 1970. Maryknoll feels like a second home for her. “I love it! It’s an amazing community of faculty and parents with the same goal of making the school experience a memorable and positive one for the kids,” Badua says. “We’ve been blessed with wonderful friendships, and we’re so grateful! Maryknoll has given so much to our family that I enjoy being involved and helping out wherever I can.”
—Cheri Konn Badua, Maryknoll alumna and parent