Teri Chong ’82, first-grade teacher

Teri Chong, HPA first grade teacher

Since 1998, HPA’s first graders have blossomed under the gentle care of Teri Chong ’82. After graduating from HPA, she earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Hawai‘i. Teri grew up in Waimea, on the very land where the Village Campus now sits; her mother’s family owned the property, and sold it to Woody Woods, who built the Village Inn Hotel and ultimately donated the buildings and grounds to HPA.

What’s on your nightstand reading list?
My nightstand reading pile continues to grow taller and taller! Recently I did find the time to enjoy reading Michelle Obamaʻs Becoming, Kim Cope Tait’s Kealaula (Kim is a former colleague and her novels reference Waimea), and I re-read Hank Wesselman’s The Bowl of Light.

Do you have a favorite first grade project or topic of study?
I love being able to help my students better understand who they are. We begin with their personal narratives, but then delve deeper through the year, connecting their family to their place or where they come from. We look at family traditions, and focus on how food has sustained their families over the years—not just as sustenance, but as traditions and practices within their families: how they plant, when they plant, where and why they plant, how they prepare the food, how they partake of the food, what these traditions mean to their families, and what is their responsibility today and into the future.

How did you become a teacher?
In my intermediate school years, I was a helper in the classroom for physically disabled students. Then at the HPA Upper School, I was again able to serve in public school classrooms each year during a dedicated week when each student chose to focus on service in our larger community. At that young age, I experienced firsthand how impactful and rewarding teaching can be! And though it is a lot of hard work and takes a lot of grit to stick with it, you know you are making a difference in lives. The kids sustain me and my desire to continue working and learning.

As an Upper School alum and a Lower School teacher, what common threads do you see in the HPA experience, regardless of age group?
For me and my alumni friends and family, the common thread in our HPA experience is that we had faculty who truly cared for us—inside and outside the classroom. We knew it, we felt it, we lived it. And so, when our time to leave HPA came, we carried this experience with us… We are who we are because of the HPA experience. So when I look at my role today as a first grade teacher, my hope is that I am providing for my students and their families the same sense that they belong, they are important, they can learn anything, they have the skill set, they can succeed, and they have folks who care about them.

What is your favorite place on the island?
On the slopes of our mauna. I love being up there and just having my feet on the ground, a place where my ancestors were born, walked, lived, worked, and returned to. In the still and peaceful rolling hills of Maunakea, I am able to simply be and feel who I am and who I am becoming. It gives me reason.