LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Whitney Aragaki

Position: AP Research Teacher
School: Waiakea High School
School District: Hawaii Public Schools
City, State: Hilo, HI

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Whitney Aragaki was nominated by two anonymous students. The following profile contains text from both nominations.

"Mrs. Aragaki is someone I have known for a fairly short amount of time in my life, but the impact she has had on me is profound and infinitely positive," said a student. "My first interaction with her was as a student in her AP Environmental class during my junior year of high school. A mere year-and-a-half later, I can categorically say she is my teacher and mentor. More importantly, I can proudly say she is my friend."

Mrs. Aragaki is incredibly ambitious. She attended Waiakea High School, where she returned to teach and continues to teach today. After high school, she pursued higher education, earning her Bachelor's degree in biology at the prestigious Swarthmore College. Afterwards, she earned her Master's degree at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. She's currently working towards her Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, all while being a full-time mother and teacher, putting her utmost effort into everything she does. She is unwavering in her dedication to each and every one of her students.

"For the first few weeks as her student, I was intimidated and even afraid of Mrs. Aragaki," said a student. "She holds each student to a high standard and knows how to motivate them to achieve their full potential. On the first few tests I took in her AP Environmental Science class, I got D’s or even failed. This was uncharacteristic for me, and I was reluctant to ask for help. Eventually, I asked her if there was anything I could do to bring up my grade. She simply said, 'study harder next time.' I felt discouraged hearing this, as I thought I studied hard the first time. After a short pause, she said, “don’t worry, I’ll help you,” and I felt a wave of relief. Over the course of the year, she showed me how to study, what to expect of myself, how to set good goals, and how to achieve them. She encouraged me to accomplish more and taught me the value of hard work. By the end of the year, I had earned A’s on some tests, and I ended up passing the AP Exam.

Beyond simply being a good teacher, Mrs. Aragaki makes students want to be better people and strive to achieve more. She leads by example, demonstrating that through sheer ambition and merciful honesty, you can live up to your potential. As the advisor of the National Honor Society chapter, she encourages members to hold themselves to a higher standard and ensures they not only have integrity and humility, but that they always give back to their communities. In 2019, her school's Public Services Academy earned national recognition and achieved “model” status from the National Career Academy Coalition. Mrs. Aragaki was one of the individuals who spearheaded this initiative. She is constantly striving to find means to improve the school and community. In short, her productivity is incredible.

More than anything, Mrs. Aragaki has expressed a desire to nurture the island and community. She is remarkably intelligent and could have been a doctor or even a rocket scientist if she wanted. However, she chose to return to her hometown and alma mater to make a positive impact on the next generation. As a biology, AP Environmental Science, and AP Research teacher, she seeks to find unconventional ways to ignite people’s passion for learning. Her knowledge and commitment are inspirational.

"It truly amazes me to see someone work so hard and be wholeheartedly enthusiastic about other people’s successes," said a student. "I am very grateful to know her, feel fortunate to have learned from her, and I’m so lucky to call her a friend."

"Mrs. Aragaki is the teacher who basically changed my whole idea of what school had to be," said a student. "I had always heard that school could be fun and exciting, but almost never found it to be so. In this past year, I became extremely disinterested in school and lost all of my motivation to continue my educational path. Mrs. Aragaki showed me that school doesn't need to be the place everyone despised, and that I could trust and become close with a teacher. She was always available to talk and was perhaps one of the easiest teachers to approach. She not only helped me open up, but she motivated me to do things I never would've done. Mrs. Aragaki guided me into applying for the National Honor Society. She helped me find a mentor and internship opportunity at the UH Hilo College of Pharmacy. She helped me stop procrastinating, not only on my work, but in many other aspects of my life. Mrs. Aragaki not only had this effect on me, but many other students. The students in my AP Research class have the ability to excuse themselves from the class, but choose to stay, for the last period of the day."