Washington State’s Cheryl Chow: A true Chalkboard Champion

1365203001There are many fine examples of dedicated and talented educators who make immense contributions to their local communities. One such educator is Cheryl Mayre Chow of Washington State.

Cheryl was born in Seattle on May 24, 1946, the daughter of Chinese restaurant owners Ping and Ruby Chow. As a young teenager, Cheryl graduated from Franklin High School, and then enrolled at Western Washington University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in teaching. She also earned a master’s degree in administrative management from Seattle University.

Upon her graduation from college, the neophyte educator became a physical education teacher. As a teacher, she was known for her toughness, high standards, and tenacious advocacy for children. Eventually she became a principal of first Sharples Junior High (renamed Aki Kurose Junior High) and then Garfield High.

Cheryl’s devotion to young people is very evident. Among her many achievements, she served as the assistant director for the Girl Scouts of Western Washington, a girls’ basketball coach for the city parks and recreation department, and she also directed the Seattle Chinese Community Girls Drill Team. “Everything that Cheryl did, she worked to instill leadership among the girls and kind of mentor them for their adult lives,” remembers friend Lorena Eng. In addition to this work, Cheryl helped to form an outreach program for teens involved in Asian street gangs.

Cheryl also served as the president of the Seattle School Board and worked at the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. In addition, she served two terms on her local city council.

This chalkboard champion passed away from a central nervous system lymphoma on March 29, 2013, at the age of 66. She is interred at Evergreen Washelli Memorial Park in Seattle. She is survived by her partner, Sarah Morningstar, and their daughter, Liliana.

Chalkboard Champion Aki Kurose: Civil Rights Activist and Tireless Advocate for Minority Students

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American history yields numerous examples of inspirational teachers who have devoted their talents to important social causes, including advocating for better conditions for the poor and promoting racial equality. One such teacher is Akiko Kato Kurose, an elementary school teacher from Seattle, Washington, who was also an nationally-recognized social activist who worked tirelessly to increase access to education and affordable housing for low-income and minority families.

Akiko, who was always known by the name Aki, was born in Seattle, Washington, on February 11, 1925. She was the third of four children born to Japanese immigrants Harutoshi and Murako Kato. Aki’s father was a railroad station porter, and her mother was the manager of an apartment building. In the Kato home, traditional gender roles were reversed: Aki’s mother studied engineering, learned how to operate the building’s boiler room and furnace, and served as the building’s handyman, while her father enjoyed baking jelly rolls which were served to friends and neighbors at social gatherings he organized every Friday evening.

As a young girl, Aki was active in Girl Scouts, and was also active in her high school band and drama club. She also attended Japanese language school once a week. The Kato family’s typical American middle-class home life was dramatically altered when the Empire of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Aki was a high school senior at the time. In February, 1942, when President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, the Kato family was among the 112,000 Japanese Americans who were forcibly removed from their homes and relocated to internment camps throughout the United States. The Katos were sent first to Puyallup Assembly Center at the Washinton fairgrounds, and were eventually consigned to the internment camp set up in Minidoka, Idaho.

Aki completed the requirements for her high school diploma at Minidoka, where the plucky teenager became actively involved with the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization, which donated books to camp schools and helped college-age internees obtain permission to enroll in universities outside of the camps. She was able to gain permission to enroll in the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, but shortly after her arrival there transferred to nearby LDS Business College. At the conclusion of WWII, the Aki pursued her college education at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas. In 1981, she earned a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education.

After her graduation from Friends University in 1948, Aki married Junelow Kurose, the brother of her best friend. Junelow had been recently discharged from the United States Army. After their marriage, Aki and Junelow settled in Chicago, where her husband’s parents had moved following their release from internment. Junelow was an accomplished electrician, but due to discrimination against Japanese American citizens, he was unable to find work in that field, even though he was a veteran who had been honorably discharged. Returning to Seattle in 1950, Junelow was eventually hired as a machinist at Boeing, while Aki found employment as a secretary for the railroad porter’s union. Influenced by the discrimination she and her husband faced in their search for a home, Aki became involved in the open housing movement in the 1950s, working first with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and later, in the 1960s, joining the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Over the years, the couple enlarged their family to include six children, which Aki enrolled in Seattle Freedom School, an offshoot of the Mississippi Freedom Schools established as part of the Civil Rights Movement. When she participated in CORE civil rights marches and anti-war demonstrations, she took her children along. She was also active in the Women’s International League for Freace and Freedom and the activist branches of the YWCA.

Aki possessed a lifelong passion for education, so she began taking courses in early childhood education and development and devoted her talents to working in preschool programs. In 1965, she collaborated with a group of neighborhood parents to form Washington State’s first Head Start program.

Aki began her career as a professional educator by teaching for Seattle Public Schools through the Head Start program, eventually accepting a job at a local elementary school in 1974. Two years later, as part of the city’s move to desegregate its public schools, she was transferred from Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, an urban, predominantly African-American school, to Laurelhurst Elementary School, an affluent, predominately white school located in suburban North Seattle. Because of strong anti-Japanese sentiment, Aki had to work hard to overcome opposition to her transfer there, but she eventually won over the parents. When the first students of color were bused to the campus, Aki worked hard to ease their integration and also advocated strongly for the adoption of a multi-cultural curriculum for the school.

In the classroom, Aki emphasized collaborative learning and encouraged her students to learn through hands-on experience instead of rote memorization, and she received numerous awards for her innovative teaching style. She taught principals of peaceful co-existence to even the youngest of students, her first graders, telling them, “If you’re not at peace with yourself, with your neighbor, with your community, you can’t really learn very much. We have to get rid of all this garbage, this angry, competitive feeling. Then we’ll all get along.”

Over time, Aki became one of the schools most beloved and respected teachers. In 1980 she was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the National Advisory Council on the Education of Disadvantaged Children. In 1985 she was honored as Seattle Teacher of the Year, and in 1990 she was awsarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics. Because of her innovative work to integrate peace advocacy with education, she was awarded the United Nations Human Rights Award in 1992. The Seattle Times said of Aki that she had “touched thousands of children, drew parents into the district, inspired many into public service, set an example for many teachers; she personified the best of what happens inside a classroom.”

This talented and dedicated educator retired in 1997 after 25 years of service in Seattle public school. to honor her, students and parents from Laurelhurst school build and dedicated the Aki Kurose Peace Garden on the school campus. This Chalkboard Champion passed away the following year, on May 24, in Madrona, Washington, following a sixteen-year battle with cancer. She was 73 years old.

Terry Marzell’s book Chalkboard Champions mentioned on Asian American Journal

I am always gratified when I discover that others are supportive of my efforts to honor remarkable teachers, so I was excited to learn that my first book, Chalkboard Champions, was recently mentioned on the website for Asian American Journal. A chapter of my book explores the life and work of Japanese-America educator Mary Tsukamoto, an elementary school teacher from northern California who was incarcerated in a Japanese-American internment camp during WWII. Her life story highlights a shameful episode in American history, but the good that comes out of her family’s misfortune truly inspires the reader.

You can check out the mention on the website at this link: Asian American Journal. Enjoy!

Japanese American Journal

Hawaii’s chalkboard champion Takashi Ohno: Teacher and legislator

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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.

The President’s Sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng: Talented Teacher and Author

Maya Soetoro-NgMaya Soetoro-Ng is a former high school history teacher, current university professor, and expert in comparative international education. She also happens to be the half-sister of President Barack Obama. Born in 1970 in Jakarta, Indonesia, she is the daughter of Anne Durham, Barack Obama’s mother, and Anne’s second husband, Indonesian businessman Lolo Soetoro. An accomplished educator in her own right, Maya’s work as a promoter of international relations would be amazing, even if she did not enjoy her presidential connections.

Early in her career, Maya taught history at La Pietra Hawaii School for Girls and at the Education Laboratory School, both located in Honolulu, Hawaii. She has also taught courses as an Assistant Professor at the University of Hawaii, College of Education, and between 1996 and 2000, she developed and taught curriculum at The Learning Project, an alternative public middle school located in New York City. She has also served as an Education Specialist at the East-West Center, an organization that promotes understanding between the United States, Asia, and the nations of the Pacific.

Maya published a children’s book entitled Ladder to the Moon in 2011. The book is a fantasy story about the president’s mother, cultural anthropologist Ann Dunham, and her adventures with Maya’s daughter, Suhaila. In the book, the pair help orphaned tsunami victims and, as the title suggests, climb a ladder to the moon. Maya said she first got the idea for the book when her daughter said she wanted to know about her grandmother–who she never had a chance to meet. Dunham passed away from ovarian cancer in 1995.

Maya is currently working on a book about peaceful conflict resolution aimed at high school students. She also oversaw the 2009 publication of her mother’s dissertation, entitled Surviving Against the Odds: Village Industry in Indonesia, authoring the foreword to the book and presenting it at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association.