Sowing and reaping
KOHALA — Kayla Sinotte likes to get her hands dirty.
Her daily efforts to maintain and expand Kohala Elementary School’s Discovery Garden over the past three years as their part-time garden teacher have paid off. In October, she was one of 100 finalists to receive the $2,000 Voya Unsung Heroes award out of 1,300 applicants.
She is the only recipient in Hawaii this year.
For two decades, and with nearly $5 million in awards and grants, Voya Unsung Heroes has highlighted effective programs run by K-12 educators across the U.S. Voya Financial, Inc. started the program in 1996.
“I was given this ‘in recognition of innovation and excellence in education,’ as it says on the plaque,” Sinotte said. “It was a grant type application people can apply for, and I received the money to further grow the KES Discovery Garden.”
A Voya representative flew to the school to present the check and plaque to her in person in October. The award was shared on the school’s morning broadcast for all teachers and students to see.
“I felt very honored to receive this award. Only one person from Hawaii has received this award and I feel grateful they chose me,” Sinotte said. “Due to this award, articles have been published, and in return this has drawn a lot of attention to Kohala and our school garden. I feel like a celebrity in our small community.”
Her entry in the competition highlighted innovative ideas she has uses in the school garden. Sinotte says she teaches students in an exploratory and multi-sensory way that nourishes the whole child: their mind, body, and well-being.
The 40-minute classes are designed to teach sustainable agricultural practices, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, wellness and nutrition, and Hawaiian pono (righteous) behavior in the school garden.
Sinotte’s ultimate hope is that the garden will not only disseminate nutrition and health education, but also improve the food security for the students’ families.