Aloha! Red Foxes are Having a Big Impact in Hawaii
June 30, 2022 – With a campus in Florence, Italy and a nationally recognized Study Abroad program, it’s not much of a surprise to see Marist students make an impact far away from Poughkeepsie. However, what’s happened in a state some 5,000 miles away is unique. Late last month, a group of Marist alumni got together with some current teaching candidates in Honolulu, highlighting the growing influence Red Foxes have had in Hawaii.
The alumni weren’t on a Hawaiian vacation. They live there, having all first been exposed to the Aloha State as teaching candidates. That’s where it all starts. Marist offers teaching candidates a number of opportunities to gain exposure to Hawaii.
One is the annual spring attachment course titled “Culturally Responsive Education: Teaching the Children of Hawaii,” led by Dr. Jennifer Powers, Marist Director of Clinical Teacher Preparation and Certification. She has championed this initiative since 2016, and says this course fits beautifully with Marist College's mission and focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
Marist students had the chance to immerse themselves in local classrooms as well as cultural sites throughout Hawaii. Photos by Dr. Jennifer Powers. *Note, please click on the "i" icon on the bottom right-hand corner for captions of each image.
The attachment course is a cultural immersion experience aimed at developing students’ knowledge and appreciation of Hawaii’s unique and diverse culture, beyond the tourist perception of the islands. Marist teaching candidates learn how a family’s cultural background affects a schoolchild in Hawaii. While those that take the attachment class over two weeks are immersed in the classroom experience, they also visit cultural sites like Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Iolani Palace and Kukaniloko, in partnership with the Pacific Islands Institute, a local agency focused on protecting, sustaining and respecting indigenous culture.
In addition to the course, Marist teaching candidates also have the option to experience Hawaiian schools as student teachers. While these options are popular for current teaching candidates at Marist, perhaps the biggest impact is the sheer amount of those who have decided to work there following their graduation. More than 40 Marist alumni are currently teaching throughout Oahu, The Big Island, Maui and Kauai. While not all of the Hawaii-based alumni took this attachment course, all have been inspired by their exposure to the program as Marist students. The attachment course has become, over time, a conduit to prepare those considering teaching in Hawaii after graduation.
John Sasso ’20, a New Jersey native, and Tiffany Mattiaccio ’20 of Yonkers, both found out about Marist’s work in Hawaii from Dr. Powers and traveled there to be the first Marist teaching candidates ever to student teach in Hawaii in 2020, though had to return early due to the COVID-19 pandemic and complete their student teaching online. Sasso returned to Hawaii after graduation to work full-time as a teacher on Oahu Island.
“Student teaching in Hawaii was an incredible experience! I worked with an awesome mentor teacher at Nanakuli High and Intermediate School who taught me excellent teaching strategies in addition to teaching me about the Hawaiian culture. I loved the population I student taught and was eager to go back and teach there full time,” said Sasso.
Mattiaccio took the attachment course in 2018 before returning to Hawaii to be a student teacher in 2020. She returned to Hawaii soon after and is also now teaching on Oahu.
“At the end of the school year, I applied to teach there as a special education teacher and the principal was happy to hire me,” said Mattiaccio. “He hired me for the same grade level that I was student teaching in, and am now entering my third year of teaching on Oahu. I am so grateful for my experience on the island and those that I have gotten to meet.”
Brittney Driggs ’10, a New Jersey native, and Marist alumna of the five-year teaching program, is now a High School Curriculum Coordinator on Oahu, going on her 13th year.
“The Aloha spirit is a real thing and everyone is just so welcoming that it was easy to lay down roots. The kids are amazing to work with and my administration has pushed me to grow and take on challenges. I started out as a High School special education science teacher, quickly I took on the responsibility of Special Education Department Head at the high school and then about 4 years ago my former Vice Principal asked me to come on board as a Curriculum Coordinator.”
Marist teaching candidates meeting with alumni at an event in Honolulu in May. Photo by Dr. Jennifer Powers
Marist alumni and teaching candidates on the attachment course trip in late May, attended an alumni event held at the Coconut Waikiki Hotel, Honolulu. While it is always a special event when Red Foxes get together so far away from campus, this year featured another reason to celebrate as it was the first attachment trip there since 2019, due to the pandemic.
“The biggest thing I took away from the experience was further opening my mind to learning about other cultures, specifically when it comes to students in school,” said teaching candidate Dylan Patwell ’23. “I think it’s especially important for someone like me who comes from a less diverse area to learn more about those who are different than me. Embracing diversity and allowing not only the students, but the teachers as well, to learn from one another will create the ideal classroom environment, relating to culture and overall.”
“I think that when we hear ‘Hawaii,’ our minds instantly go to the sunny beaches, the palm trees, the turquoise water, and the beautiful weather,” said teaching candidate Kimberly Chang ’23. “However, we don't think about the areas of poverty and those in need. Prior to the trip, I wouldn't have even considered teaching in Hawaii. However, I now feel a strong desire to empower the students and leave a long-lasting impact on their lives. I'm hoping I have the opportunity to go back one day and continue to inspire the children in Hawaii.”
Marist has had a partnership with the Hawaii State Department of Education for over twenty years, which has been critical to the program’s success.
“The Hawaii State Department of Education and the Marist College Education Department have had a long-standing partnership,” said Sean Bacon, Interim Assistant Superintendent for the Hawaii State DOE, and a long-time recruiter for the program. “This partnership has afforded Marist College students the opportunity to immerse themselves with a teaching career opportunity in a diverse cultural setting. The Department is thankful for the continued commitment, and looks forward to working together in the future to ensure that our students are taught with a highly qualified educator.”
Meanwhile, the bond between Marist alumni and the current teaching candidates is a strong one, that continues to build each year.
“The Marist network is incredible,” said Sasso. “There is a comfort level knowing that they shared your college experience. That’s the reason current Marist students feel confident in asking for help or advice from the alumni through Dr. Powers’ extension course. It’s rewarding to help current Marist students who went through the same thing that we went through,” he said.
“I think what Dr. Powers is doing now is absolutely amazing and helping to keep the program growing and thriving,” said Driggs. “I recently had the opportunity to come back to Marist for a recruiting trip, which I think was a great way to share my experiences with Marist students who are interested in coming to Hawaii.”
Marist offers a number of faculty-led attachment programs like “Culturally Responsive Education” that vary in scope. Students must speak with the Program Director of the program, if interested, for approval to enroll.
Marist’s Study Abroad program is ranked second in the nation among master’s-granting institutions for semester and academic-year abroad as well as total number of students studying abroad in the most recent Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. The report also ranked the college seventh overall in undergraduate study abroad participation rate. Marist has received the Senator Paul Simon Award for First Year Abroad programs in Italy and Ireland and also features an annual roster of innovative, faculty-led international and domestic travel programs.