Kea‘au Elementary educator wins STACY Award for Teaching Excellence

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Daphna Ehrenhalt is a fifth grade inclusion teacher at Keaʻau Elementary School on Hawaiʻi Island. Photo Courtesy: HSTA

The Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association’s STACY Award for Teaching Excellence recognizes a teacher who demonstrates leadership, dedication, and passion in five categories: scholarship, teaching, advocacy, community, and youth. It is one of the highest honors bestowed by the association.

This year’s recipient is Daphna Ehrenhalt, a fifth-grade inclusion teacher at Keaʻau Elementary School on Hawaiʻi Island. The Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association recognized Ehrenhalt at its annual state convention on Saturday, April 22.

Ehrenhalt has been a professional development instructor for five years. They lead by example, inspiring colleagues to collaborate and support each other to be the best educators for their keiki.


As an inclusion teacher, Ehrenhalt adjusts lessons on the fly to ensure every student can learn. They believe teaching is an art, not an exact science, and involves differentiating instruction and building on schema.

Jasmine DeSoto, Keaʻau Elementary special education teacher, said, “She’s highly dynamic and really, really busy, so you feel that energy when you come into her room … She’s a great instructor.”

Ehrenhalt is Keaʻau Elementary’s Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association head faculty representative, and has served on the Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association Human and Civil Rights Committee for three years. They helped develop Transgender 101 for Educators, a workshop on how to support transgender youth. Ehrenhalt is non-binary, uses the pronouns she/they, and works to ensure every student feels safe, happy, and loved.

Daphna Ehrenhalt has served on the HSTA Human and Civil Rights Committee for three years. Photo Courtesy: HSTA

Ehrenhalt serves on the board of Hawaiʻi Island LGBTQ+ Pride. They’ve put together safe space kits, delivered hundreds of LGBTQ-friendly books to classrooms and libraries, and organized holiday toy drives for the East Hawaiʻi Family Guidance Center.

Ehrenhalt said, “Our whole team is dedicated to making sure that the community is safe, and the community is a community, that we hold events where people feel safe and protected, and they can be themselves.”

Before the pandemic, Ehrenhalt taught American Sign Language after school so students who were deaf or hard of hearing could feel included. They also partnered with a colleague to form Kinder Buddies, a reading group that allows kindergarteners and fifth graders to connect and grow together.


The Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association’s award for teaching excellence program was established to celebrate the outstanding work of the late Stacy Nishina, an outstanding public school teacher and longtime staff member of HSTA.

As the recipient of this year’s award, Ehrenhalt will be the Hawaiʻi State Teachers Associations nominee for the NEA Foundation’s Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence and NEA Member Benefits Award.

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