As Halloween approached in 2020, Gabrielle Kahawai introduced an exciting new project to her third graders at Gonzales Community School in Santa Fe, New Mexico: They would create their own scary stories. All instruction was virtual because of the pandemic, but Kahawai didn’t let that get in the way. She explained the writing process, then met individually with each student to help them polish drafts and refine illustrations. When the stories were finished, students added them to the Padlet app to make it easy to share their stories with the class and hear their peers’ feedback. Kahawai’s virtual classroom bubbled with enthusiasm, joy, positivity and engagement—no small feat given the challenges of teaching during COVID-19. She had a complete classroom set up in her home to give students as much of a school-like environment as she can via Zoom and became Gonzales’ de facto tech guru, helping colleagues master both tools and strategies to support virtual instruction. Knowing that building trusting relationships is even more important in a virtual setting, Kahawai hosted a “Kids Club” to give students time to listen to and talk with each other, outside of academics. Her overarching goal: making sure students get the education they deserve, regardless of any obstacles.
Always eager to improve her practice, Kahawai is often the first at Gonzales to adopt new strategies and technology in her classroom. She meets weekly with her grade level to address professional learning opportunities, plan lessons, analyze student data, and collaborate on efforts to address individual student needs. Kahawai lets data drive her instruction, grouping students according to their academic needs and differentiating her instruction as she moves from one group to the next. To get students excited about reading, Kahawai encourages them to come to school in pajamas and slippers to show everyone how they read at home. She uses “math talks” to encourage students to verbalize their math reasoning, incorporates hands-on science learning through the LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory) Foundation, and introduces students to coding. Third graders at Gonzales excel in all subject areas, with reading and math MAP assessment scores more than twice state averages.
Kahawai served on the site-based management team and helped create a literary fair for Gonzales’ younger grades. She coordinates the school’s hiking club and has led students, staff and families on hikes in the Santa Fe National Forest. Family relationships are a priority for Kahawai, who goes to great lengths to keep parents in the loop about their children’s progress. Her door is always open to students and their families to ensure children are getting what they need to be successful in school. Kahawai’s students leave her classroom well prepared to move on in their academic careers, knowing they have an advocate who will be there for them for years to come.
Kahawai earned a bachelor’s in elementary education in 2012 from New Mexico Highlands University.
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