BAS in Teaching and Early Learning
Former struggling student excels in college, teaching
While Kiana Nakaya was in grade school, she said she was often recognized as an “oddball,” as she struggled with a learning disability that caused her to get a year or two behind in her reading and comprehension levels.
“I had to learn very early that I have to work hard to get what I wanted,” Nakaya of Auburn said, adding that she never felt good enough or that she ever had something she was “naturally good at.”
But, now, after having graduated from Highline College with a teaching degree in 2020, the 23-year-old is teaching children how to read, write, do math and more as a second-grade teacher at Panther Lake Elementary in Federal Way.
Not only did she work hard to get to where she is, but she credits Highline College with helping her believe she could be a leader and teacher.
“From staff, from other students, everyone was on the same page –– to become the best educator,” she said. “We all knew there was a need for a change in the education system. We all wanted to make a difference. But we also knew that we needed to accept help along the way to reach our goal. Our conversations in the classrooms were amazing and so valuable to my teaching philosophy to this day.”
As Nakaya earned her Associate of Applied Science in Paraeducation and a Bachelor of Applied Science in Teaching and Early Learning – K-8 Certification, she upheld a high GPA as part of Highline’s Honors Program, Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society and TRiO’s Honor Roll. During her time at Highline, she also won the Leona Hickman Educational Trust Scholarship, the TRiO Ambassador Award and Scholarship and two other awards: TRiO’s Outstanding New Participant Award in March 2017 and Participant Award in March 2017 and May 2018.
Three faculty, Patricia McDonald, Jodi White and John Pizarro, were especially influential as she attended Highline College.
“She saw this characteristic of me before I could even see it myself,” Nakaya said of McDonald, who was her advisor. “She supported me in feeling valued and worthy of the knowledge that felt so natural to me. I have no idea I had these skills already in place.”
Nakaya said White also saw her potential as an impactful educator, and Pizarro always made sure his students were heard. He also thoughtfully communicated important information and let his students know they could come to him with anything.
“He saw the potential we had, and he made sure we had the guidance that we needed to succeed in the never-ending job of teaching,” Nakaya said of Pizarro. “He helped me strive more than I ever have before. To this day, I could not thank him enough.”
If there’s any advice she could give to currently enrolled students, Nakaya says it would be for students to reach out to a Highline instructor they trust.
“Discuss with them your interests; they will guide you to the correct person to talk to or guide you to the right steps based on your interests,” she said.
But most of all, she advises: “everything is worth working for if you really want it. You have to really want it or your experience at Highline [won’t be] important or meaningful to you. Getting your education should be beneficial to you, your schedule and your bank account. Highline is the college to go for that!”
Learn more about degrees and certificates offered through Highline’s Education department.