Hawaii’s chalkboard champion Takashi Ohno: Teacher and legislator


Often talented educators go on to serve their communities in the political arena. This is the case with Takashi Ohno, a third grade teacher from Kalihi, Hawaii, who is currently serving in the Hawaii House of Representatives.

Takashi was born on Kodiak Island, Alaska. His father was originally from Japan, and was employed in Alaska’s fishing industry. After graduation from high school, Takashi attended  Linfield College, a small liberal arts institution located in McMinnville, Oregon, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in education. He earned his master’s degree from Chaminade University, a private university in Honolulu, Hawaii.

After completing his education Takashi accepted a position as a third grade teacher at Mayor Joseph J. Fern Elementary in Kalihi, Hawaii. As an educator connected with Teach for America, Takashi is a firm believer in education. “Education is life’s equalizer,” he once said, “and we need to compensate and retain master teachers that excel in their profession.”

In 2012, Takashi was elected to the Hawaii State House of Representatives representing District 27. He is currently serving his second term there. He is a part of several legislative committees, including Agriculture; Economic Development and Business; Tourism; Veterans, Military, and International Affairs; and Culture and the Arts; Education; and Higher Education. “I work so that all children one day will receive an excellent education,” Takashi once expounded.

Takashi Ohono: a true chalkboard champion.

Alaska State Senator Mia Costello publicly thanks her kindergarten teacher

getphotoThere are many fine examples of talented teachers who make a positive contribution to their community as a politician. Mia C. Costello, an educator from Alaska, is one such teacher.

Mia was born in Anchorage, Alaska, on January 11, 1968. As a teenager, she attended West High School, where she graduated in 1986. After her graduation, she enrolled at Harvard University. Mia earned her degree in government in 1990, and her teaching certificate and master’s degree in teaching from the University of Alaska Southeast in 1997.

Mia worked as an educator in both the Service High School in the Anchorage School District and Juneau-Douglas High School in the Juneau School District. For her accomplishments in the classroom she has been awarded the Alaska Humanities Forum Teacher Exchange to Sand Point, and she has been named a Co-Nect Schools Excellence in Education finalist.

After leaving the teaching profession, she became the owner of a public relations consulting business, worked as the Deputy Director of Communications for former Governor Frank Murkowski, completed a stint as the public information officer for the Media Support Center of the Office of then-Governor Walter Hickel, and also worked as an account executive for Bradley/Reid Communications. In addition, she served as an aide to state Representative Norm Rokeberg and as an instructor for Nine Star Education and Employment Services. In 2010, Mia was elected as a member of the Alaska State House of Representatives representing District 20, a post she held until 2014, when she was elected to the Alaska State Senate on the Republican ticket. She continues to serve in that capacity today.

Mia’s special interests are youth literacy, flying, swimming, and camping. She is married and has two sons.

Even though Mia no longer serves in the classroom, she appreciates great teachers. She has even publicly credited her former kindergarten teacher, Caroline Nishimura, with making an important contribution to her own success.  To view this, view the video at this link: Mia recognizes her kindergarten teacher.

Alaskan Teacher Etta Schureman Jones: She Was a WWII Prisoner of War

Chap 7 Etta JonesThere are times when extraordinary circumstances of history present already gutsy teachers with unexpected challenges. This is certainly true of the intrepid Etta Schureman Jones, an elementary school teacher and trained nurse from originally from Vineland, New Jersey.

Etta Schureman was over forty years old when she and her sister, Marie, ventured into Alaska Territory to teach Native American Eskimos in primitive rural schools. After one year, Marie  returned to the Lower 48, but Etta, who had met the love of her life and married, settled permanently in Alaska. The picture here is the happy couple on their wedding day.

Eighteen years later, Etta and her beloved husband, C. Foster Jones, were working together  in the remote Aleutian island of Attu when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Empire of Japan on December, 7, 1941, “a day that will live in infamy.” The couple and their students were slated to be evacuated by the U.S. Navy when the island was invaded by Japanese troops. Although the couple were in their sixties, Japanese soldiers killed Foster and removed Etta to an internment camp in Japan, where she was incarcerated with a small group of Australian nurses who were also prisoners of war. The Attuan natives, about three dozen of them, were also taken to Japan, with the apparent intention of assimilating them into the Japanese population. Although Etta was rescued buy American troops after the war, and she and the surviving Attuans were eventually repatriated after the war, Etta never saw her students or their families again.

Etta’s intriguing tale of survival is told brilliantly by Mary Breu in her book Last Letters from Attu: The True Story of Etta Jones: Alaska Pioneer and Japanese POW. A fascinating read, to be sure. You can find this book at amazon at the following link: Last Letters from Attu. I have also included a chapter about this courageous teacher in my recently published book, Chalkboard Heroes: Twelve Courageous Teaches and their Deeds of Valor, also available at amazon at this link: Chalkboard Heroes.

Ticasuk Brown: Alaska’s Inupiaq Chalkboard Champion

BrownThere are many examples of talented educators who have advanced the cause of multicultural understanding and racial equality. This is certainly the case with Emily Ticasuk Brown, an Alaska Native who was also an elementary school teacher, poet, and writer.

Emily Ticasuk Brown was born in 1904 in Unlakleet, Alaska. Her Inupiaq name, Ticasuk, translated into English means “where the four winds gather their treasures from all parts of the world…the greatest of which is knowledge.” Ticasuk came into the world an Alaska Native with blended heritage. Her grandfather, Sergei Ivanoff, was Russian, and her grandmother, Chikuk, was Yupik Native. Ticasuk’s parents were Stephen Ivanoff and Malquay.

As a young girl, Ticasuk attended elementary school in Shaktoolik, Alaska, a village co-founded by her father. After her graduation from high school, she earned her teaching credential in Oregon, and then she returned to Alaska where she accepted her first teaching position at an elementary school in Kotzebue. The course of her life quickly changed, however, after she witnessed the numerous health hazards in her village. To address this concern, she moved to Washington to study nursing. There she met her husband and married. Later Ticasuk and her husband returned to Alaska, where she taught for two years, until his early death. She returned to college in 1959, earning two bachelor’s degrees from the University of Alaska, and then her master’s degree in 1974. Her master’s thesis, Grandfather of Unalakleet, was republished as The Roots of Ticasuk: An Eskimo Woman’s Family Story in 1981.

As an Inpiaq educator and supporter of bi-lingual education, Ticasuk created a curriculum based on her native tongue. She also worked extensively on the creation of an encyclopedia of the Inupiaq language. She is widely recognized by Alaska Native people as a writer of articles that further understanding about Eskimo cultures and education. In addition, this talented teacher organized the Alaska Heritage Writers Association.

For her efforts, Ticasuk was given a Presidential Commission by President Richard Nixon, and she was in line to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Alaska. Unfortunately, in 1982 Ticasuk passed away before the honor could be conferred. She was 78 years old. In 2009, this talented educator and writer was inducted into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame.

Ticasuk Brown: a true chalkboard champion.

John “Wolf Smeller” Fredson: Chalkboard Champion and Native Alaskan Rights Activist

24210_405689419765_7704338_n-350x640Many times dedicated teachers commit themselves to the important social causes of their day. This is true of John Fredson, an Alaskan Native American educator and hospital worker who labored tirelessly on behalf of the Neetsaii Gwich’in people of the Yukon.

John was born in 1896 near Table Mountain by the Sheenjek River watershed in the Yukon. He grew up speaking Gwich’in as his first language. His Gwich’in name is Zhoh Gwatson, which translated means “Wolf Smeller.” Orphaned at a young age, John attended a mission school operated by the Episcopal church.

As a youngster, John became exceptionally skilled in climbing, hunting, and following trails. At age 14, he became a member of a 1913 expedition that climbed Mount Denali, the highest peak in North America. For this expedition Johnny served as the base camp manager. While the older men climbed, John  remained at the base camp for 31 days by himself, feeding himself by hunting caribou and sheep. The young boy’s experiences are documented in the book Ascent of Denali by Archdeacon Hudson Stuck, another member of the expedition.

With the Archdeacon’s encouragement, John decided to continue his education beyond elementary school, becoming the first native of Athabascan descent to complete high school. He earned a scholarship to attend Sewanee, the University of the South, an Episcopal college located in Tennessee. He was the first Alaska native to graduate from a university. While there, John worked with renowned linguist Edward Sapir to classify Gwich’in as part of the Na-Dene language family. This work is documented in the book John Fredson Edward Sapir Ha’a Googwandak (1982).

After he graduated from college, John served his country in the US military. When he was discharged, he returned to Alaska, where he worked at a hospital in Fort Yukon. In his later years, he built a solarium for Native American tuberculosis patients. At that time, his facility was the only hospital in the far north, and was utilized by many native Alaskan patients, primarily from the Gwich’in tribe. Most of these patients suffered from communicable diseases introduced by Europeans and Asians to which the natives had no immunity.

John also taught school in the village of Venetie, teaching how to grow household gardens to a community who had previously supported themselves through hunting. In Venetie John became a tribal leader and worked to establish the Native Alaskan rights to traditional lands. He was the primary founder of the Venetie Indian Reserve, the largest reservation in Alaska, which earned federal recognition in 1941, before Alaska was admitted to the Union as a state. The reserve was approximately 1.4 million acres at the time of its establishment. There the John Fredson School of Yukon Flats has been named in his honor, and the school remains there to this day.

All his life, John “Wolf Smeller” Fredson was a Native American rights activist, writer, hunter, skilled debater, musician, artist, and more.  He is said to have lived his life with integrity, passion, and a great sense of humor.  He always exhibited a great love for the land and for his people, and he made many significant contributions to his tribe in his relatively short life. This chalkboard champion died of pneumonia on August 22, 1945.