Growing up, the library was always a place where Laurel Oshiro felt safe. It was a place where she could just be herself and explore her own interests. So when her friend introduced her to a master’s in library science program, it felt like a natural fit. Oshiro was in her final semester of student teaching at the time, about to graduate with her bachelor’s, and fell in love with the idea of becoming a school librarian.
“I prayed and prayed for guidance before I graduated,” recalls Oshiro when asked about her decision to become a librarian. “One day, while I was praying, I went to the library and the librarian was super nice. I’ve always loved the library, and I decided to apply for a school librarian graduate program. As soon as I did, it felt like all these doors opened up. My interest in learning was reawakened.”
Fast forward to 2020, and Oshiro has obviously made the right career choice. She was recently named the 2020 Hawaii Catholic Schools Teacher of the Year, an annual award that’s presented by Chaminade University, Catholic Schools Hawaii and John C. and Mary Lou Brogan. The recipient receives a golden pine“apple” trophy and $1,000.
Oshiro’s passion and love for her job are evident the moment you start talking with her. She is the school librarian for grades JK-6 at Sacred Hearts Academy and she is known for her creative programming and knack for bringing new ideas and programs to the school.
“One of my administrators joked that I’m a Jill of all trades,” says Oshiro, laughing. “But that’s why I love Sacred Hearts so much…my principals give me so much freedom and so many resources to try to influence and create new programs.”
In 2010, Oshiro started a digital media club on campus for grades 4-6. They produce movies that are shared with the entire school community and host an annual red carpet event that is open to the public. Several students have gone on to careers in broadcast journalism. In 2013, she established the iTeach808: Empowering Hawaii’s Teachers in Technology conference, a free educational technology conference that reaches over 150 teachers from 40 schools across Hawaii each year.
More recently, Oshiro has been spearheading efforts to create a STREAM Innovation Center on campus and is piloting a new program that has already shown to increase student reading achievement and motivation. An avid sports fan and certified yoga instructor, she’s also been known to coach the school soccer and track and field teams and offer free yoga classes for colleagues. In the summer, she teaches yoga classes at the Sacred Hearts high school for students. She serves as the Vice President of Membership for the Hawaii Association of School Librarians in her spare time.
Oshiro became a mother this summer and is currently taking some time off to spend with her new baby. But she misses her Sacred Hearts community dearly and she’s treating this time away as a sabbatical, a chance to discover new books and catch up on new trends in the field of library science.
For Oshiro, there’s something very special about being in the Catholic school system that she’s excited to return to after maternity leave. She’s a devout Christian and finds fulfillment in being able to share her faith with her students.
“I look forward to mass every month and being able to talk to the children about God,” says Oshiro. “I love praying with them and helping them. It’s one thing to raise kids to be really smart and have high scores, but it’s another thing to develop their hearts.”
She has a profound respect for the teachers that surround her and attributes much of her success to the incredible work that they do every day. “I look at my neighbors, the teachers on my left and the teachers on my right, and I’m like ‘boy, they are working so hard,’” she describes. “I think managing a classroom of 25 kids is much harder than what I do. I have the one place on campus where students don’t get graded. That’s why I decided to become a librarian.”
As for the teacher-of-the-year award, Oshiro is truly honored. “It was so nice of Chaminade, it felt like the Heisman of teacher’s awards—that trophy was enormous!”
But she views the award as something her whole school earned. She believes it’s the result of the support network that she has found at Sacred Hearts Academy and it wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the support of her fellow colleagues and administrators.
“It’s such an honor, I’m very humbled by it,” she says. “I hope to steward it well.”