The Garden

Danison Sarmiento was a milestone in the Growing our Own Teachers on Kaua’i program, Thursday at the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay meeting in Princeville.

Since its inception, the program has already entered more than two dozen elementary school teachers into the Kaua’i school system. Sarmiento of Kekaha is the first male teacher scheduled to graduate in May, said Dr. Kani Blackwell, the program’s coordinator from the University of Hawai’i.

“We have seven candidates here today, and before getting here, I spent a good part of my morning working with seven more candidates in Kapa’a,” Blackwell said. “We are in good shape for the future. We’ll have seven graduating in May and another seven to fill their ranks.”

The seven candidates presented by Blackwell at the Rotary Club’s Wednesday meeting are recipients of scholarships generated by the club to help them during their semester of student teaching.

Blackwell said during this time, they are on-scene working as regular teachers but getting no compensation. For many of the candidates, there are families that need caring for and bills that need paying and without the scholarships, many potential teachers would not materialize because of these obligations.

Brittney Sutton-Diego was one of those candidates, her husband and newborn son joining her for the meeting and scholarship presentation.

“In the last seven years, Diane Nitta of the Kaua’i Area Complex Personnel office said they have not had to recruit educators from the Mainland to fill Elementary Education positions,” Blackwell said. “They continue to recruit on the Mainland for secondary education, but have not had to go to the Mainland for elementary education.”

Nicole Wood, a Westside candidate, said, “This is a place where I never want to leave and having a program like Growing Our Own Teachers allows me to stay and grow on the Westside.”

Sarmiento said his parents, both his father and mother, were hard-working and he saw what they went through while he grew up in Waimea.

“My goal is to concentrate on the less fortunate children,” he said. “This is my way I can give back to the community that supported me while I was growing up.”

Blackwell said one of her tasks as coordinator of the program is to watch the candidates in action at their respective centers of education.

“The growth they have shown as teachers is amazing,” she said. “The growth demonstrated by the students make them wonder at themselves because of the difference they make in the classroom.”

George Corrigan and Robert Dickstein of the Rotary Club made the presentations, noting the checks the students received were merely “a down payment” on the full scholarships.

This is because fundraising efforts for the program is ongoing and the full amount of scholarships would depend on the success of these efforts.

In a surprise presentation, Corrigan and Dickstein presented each of the candidates with a textbook which Blackwell said was used in her seminars and they would otherwise have to purchase on their own.

“During the Foodland program, we raised about $2,000 and during the big garage sale in Kilauea, Ron Wiley of KQNG Radio was amazed because we raised more than $8,000,” Corrigan said.

Students who will be graduating with their Elementary Education credentials in May include Sarmiento, Wood, Sutton-Diego, Maegan Sakai who fell in love with Kaua’i because of its people, Kathryn Enright who is following in the footsteps of her mother who was an educator for more than 30 years, and Barbara Bloemke who has “committed her hands to service” from her days as a 4-H’er in school.

“Teachers grown here under this program continues to help me grow,” Wood said.

For more information about scholarships, visit