Kiera Horgan grew up in Washington D.C., which she credits with planting the seeds for her fascination with government and the politics of democracy. As a student at UPenn in Philadelphia, Horgan had a hard time choosing a major, given her strong interests in both history and English. After graduating, she worked in educational publishing in California, writing and editing everything from curriculum materials to a series of books about San Francisco public schools, and taught in public schools in the East Bay. Looking for a change from their Silicon Valley life, Horgan came with her family to Hawai‘i Island in 2002. She started teaching in charter schools in Kona, but when her older son began an amazing experience at the Upper School, she found herself drawn to HPA. Currently, Kiera teaches history and is head of the social studies department; she also helps coach the HPA outrigger canoe paddling team.
As an alum, do you see common threads that run through the HPA of yesterday With all your different interests, what led you to teaching?
In college, I was so interested in politics and policy that I had thoughts about going into government; I even did an internship at the White House. But that helped me to figure out that I needed to work more directly with people. Policy can have an impact, but it’s such a long game. Education is the best way to create social change, to have a positive impact. We can create a better world by empowering students, person by person.
What do you hope students will take away from their study of history?
In my modern world history class, I want students to understand the context in which we live, to understand that the systems in which we operate were created—they’re not “natural”—which means we can make changes to those systems. I want students to leave my class knowing they can question and alter these systems, knowing that these issues belong to everyone, and that they’re connected to all the peoples of the world.
If you could trade classes with another HPA teacher for a day, who would it be and why?
Tani Cordova’s marine biology class looks like so much fun, as does Patricia Kassis’ astronomy class. What they teach is so connected to what’s uniquely available to us here in Hawai‘i, and students have these incredible opportunities to get into the ocean or go up Maunakea.
What’s on your bedside reading table?
An eclectic group of books: Where the Crawdads Sing, recommended by friends, The Rapper’s Delight Cookbook, full of hilariously named recipes, and Nine Pints, a book about blood written by Rose George, a friend from college.
How did you get into paddling? Does physical activity play a big role in your own life balance?
When we moved to Kona, a neighbor recommended a paddling club to us. Before trying paddling, I hadn’t really been an athlete and hadn’t been involved in sports, but from the start, I’ve loved it. If you get the opportunity to go out to Keauhou Bay for an early morning paddle, and see the sunrise over Hualālai, with everyone pulling together and the boat moving as one—it’s an incredible exercise in mindfulness.
What’s an important lesson you’ve learned through paddling?
With paddling, you understand the importance of being one with the other people in your boat, living with the tension of not trying to control them yet trusting them to do the job they need to do. Truly, paddling is the essence of teamwork.
Does your coaching influence your teaching and vice versa?
It’s much easier to see in sports than the classroom that students own the results of their effort and engagement. When I apply that idea to the classroom, it allows me to relax and be less controlling. Sometimes it’s good to see our work as teachers in terms of coaching; we can coach those qualities that lead to success in the classroom, like grit and stamina.