Waipahu Teacher Links Students Into National Science Studies

Sometimes there’s that one teacher who makes all the difference in a student’s life.

Michael Sana

At Waipahu High School, science teacher Michael Sana strives to do just that. In addition to coming up with engaging hands-on classroom activities, he takes the students outside of their comfort zone and gets them involved in science activities at a national level.

“Mr. Sana is an exceptional and committed educator who provides a wealth of learning opportunities for our students,” said principal Keith Hayashi. “This past summer he took two of our students to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) to work with researchers on genetics. He has built strong partnerships between Waipahu High School and Lawrence Livermore, the Waksman

Institute at Rutgers University and local universities.”

LLNL in California is one of 17 national laboratories in the nation that function under the U.S. Department of Energy. The laboratories have established Teacher Research Academies that provide high school science teachers the opportunity to participate in cutting- edge research alongside national scientists. They then transfer that information and experience to their classrooms, or some- times students have a shot at firsthand experience through participation in LLNL’s Student Scholars Program.

This past July, Sana accompanied senior Kahealani Uehara and junior Jennica Ramones to the program. They were chosen based on their academic achievement and science coursework.

“The goal of the program is to have students complete authentic research and publish their results on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website,” said Sana.

“This type of research is typically conducted at colleges during a student’s junior or senior (year) or during graduate school. High school students in Hawaii now have the opportunity to conduct this research in their own classrooms.”

In addition to the impact his own science teachers made on young Sana, it was his mother who really motivated him.

When he was a senior in high school, his mother was diagnosed with cancer, but she kept her promise to attend his graduation. As he set out to major in science at UH, his mother’s strength and commitment in the face of her illness continued to inspire him.

“Education is the key to a better future, and I see to it that my students get the best education possible,” said Sana.

“They see that I’m in it for the long haul and that I really care about how well they do, and sometimes that’s the spark that they need.

“For many students, science can be a challenging subject and oftentimes they try to avoid it. I think the fear stems from not having a positive experience.

“I believe that when you create a safe, nurturing environment for the students to take risks, the challenge of learning becomes exciting and worthwhile.”

Waipahu High School is the first school in Hawaii to have a program where students are publishing their research alongside our nation’s top scientists. Sana said he hopes to eventually have a network of Hawaii schools participating in the program.