The What School Could Be Podcast

The What School Could Be Podcast

112. Two Remarkable Social Justice Educators, with Natalie Lalagos and Jonathon Medeiros

September 04, 2023

Today my guests are Jonathon Medeiros and Natalie Lalagos. In the spirit of my episode with the folks at Embark Education in Colorado, I talk to Natalie first, then Jonathon, then I bring them together for some reflections and final thoughts. 

By way of context, the Social Justice Education in Hawai‘i Project is a joint initiative of the Hanahauʻoli School Professional Development Center and the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s college of Education. It is aimed at growing the capacity of local educators to inspire youth to be active participants in a diverse democracy. Made possible by the generosity and forward thinking of Jana and Howard Wolff, The Social Justice Education in Hawai‘i Project works to ensure that more teachers, administrators, counselors, and other school practitioners have access to high-quality professional development programs and resources needed for effectively carrying out social justice education initiatives in the state of Hawai‘i. 

This includes opportunities to learn more about the Southern Poverty Law Center’s critically acclaimed Learning for Justice materials, resources, and professional development opportunities. Launched in 2022, a new and exciting component of the overall project is the Hawai‘i Social Justice Educator Award – a financial award program that aims to support the growing work of social justice educators in the 50th state.

The first Social Justice in Education Award went to two remarkable educators: Natalie Lalagos, a Spanish teacher at Kealakehe High School in Kona, and Jonathon Medeiros, a language arts teacher at Kauai High School on the island of Kauai. 

Jonathon Medeiros is a National Board-certified high school teacher who has been teaching and learning about Language Arts and rhetoric for 17 years with students on Kauaʻi, where he was born and raised. He and his students learn together about curiosity, community, and place. They build deeper connections to each other and the places they live by being curious about where they live, the stories of those places, and then following those curiosities. Jonathon is the former director of the Kauaʻi Teacher Fellowship, a poet, essayist, and also writes frequently about education, equity, and the power of curiosity. He enjoys walking, paddling, surfing, building and spending time with his brilliant wife and young daughters.

One of Jonathon’s students once wrote, “This AP English Language Composition class is the first class that has truly changed the way my brain is wired to perceive learning. Because of this class, the pressures of trying to do everything the right way have disintegrated, and left me with nothing to do but enjoy what is being taught. I've learned that everyone in this class has something to offer, whether it would be insights into their own ways of thinking, or their personal experiences that make them who they are. Throughout this work, I've learned to be more perceptive.” What a great testimonial from a former student! 

Natalie Lalagos is no stranger to the Social Justice in Education Project. She was one of the twenty-four participants in the Leaders of Social Justice in Education: Theory to Practice course in the spring of 2020 where her social justice work blossomed. She is a National Board Certified Spanish teacher at Kealakehe High School on Hawaii Island who is always looking for opportunities to celebrate multilingualism. She has worked in public education for the last eleven years. She is a Hawaii State Teacher Fellow and received the 2023 Southwest Conference on Language Teaching Language Teacher of the Year award. With her passion for globalizing her classroom and teaching practice, and being involved in her community, she currently supports new teachers and runs the Seal of Biliteracy program at her school. Off campus you can find Natalie on her stand up paddle board or doing improv at the Aloha Theatre just outside Kona.

One of Natalie’s fellow educators, the proverbial “teacher across the hall,” wrote the following about her: “Natalie is a “total package” in the sense that she is a visionary, a coordinator, an empath, and a doer. She has high expectations for both her students and fellow educators, and leads by example. Not only is she passionate about pushing herself to acquire new knowledge and skills, but she is also extremely hands-on and serious about sharing her wealth of knowledge with others. She is curious about many things, and both sincere and respectful when approaching new situations. When Natalie asks how you are doing, it is not a mere formality; she is truly in tune to every bit of information that is shared.”

Editing for this episode was provided by Evan Kurohara. Our theme music comes from master pianist and recording artist, Michael Sloan.