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Todd Higashi

Position: Science/PE Teacher

School: Alameda Science & Technology Institute

School District: Alameda Unified School District

City, State: Alameda, California

About the Nominee: Todd Higashi lives, breathes and walks “LifeChanger” every day; he is the eyes, ears, and heart of Alameda Science and Technology Institute (ASTI), and his impact on students, inside and outside the classroom, is remarkable.

At ASTI, which has only 9 staff members total, Mr. Higashi wears many hats. He teaches Biology, Media Studies, Physical Education and Current Life, and he also serves as the school’s Safe Schools Site Coordinator, Yearbook Advisor and founder of ASTI’s community garden. Mr. Higashi embraces ASTI’s Early College High School mission and vision to make college a viable option to all students, particularly low-income, first generation students of color. He is often the last person to leave ASTI in the evening, and can be found on many weekends and over school breaks helping students work on the yearbook and tend to the garden. Mr. Higashi cares deeply about his students and goes above and beyond to provide them with learning opportunities that extend beyond the classroom.

He embeds his talents and passion for his subjects into his curriculum, engaging students and making learning matter. In Media Studies, he shares his love for photography and gives students a space to cultivate their own creativity. He brings latent talents alive in students. For example, a series of photography assignments led Mr. Higashi to discover the incredible talent of one of his 12th grade students, whose photographs now grace official school postcards used to send positive notes home to parents.

In PE, his lessons thoughtfully engage students of all athletic abilities. For the dance final, 9th & 10th graders are grouped and given a dance rubric, although they get to choose what song they dance to and the choreography style. The final culminates in a dance showcase that empowers even the shyest and most uncoordinated students. Students care deeply about this final project, spending countless hours practicing their routines in the quad after school and over Thanksgiving break.

Mr. Higashi’s greatest contribution to ASTI is the school garden. Years ago, he had a vision to take a piece of land next to school and turn it into a community garden. This took over a year of planning, grant writing and partnering with community members. Mr. Higashi and his students worked tirelessly during the year to create a beautiful, seasonal, organic garden that the students in his Green Club oversee. From building planter boxes to teaching students about different types of soil, seeds, and ways of organic farming, Mr. Higashi has created an outdoor classroom where students have the opportunity to learn about hands-on gardening, the environment and nutrition. Students work into the evening, watering plants, pulling weeds and harvesting fruits and vegetables. Mr. Higashi works the garden into his biology curriculum, giving students the opportunity to plant crops of their choice and test hypotheses about factors impacting the growth of their plant. Being around Mr. Higashi inspires colleagues to examine their own work and think about how they can do more do address the needs of ASTI students.

Students tending the garden include quieter ones who are typically more comfortable on the sidelines. If a student is going through stress and hardship at home, they use the garden as a peaceful place of refuge from the difficulties of their personal lives. All kinds of students tend to the garden, from those who struggle academically to those who have a hard time fitting in with their peers socially. Mr. Higashi created a space where all students feel welcomed and valued, and has given an opportunity to all students to contribute positively to their school community. He is also changing the way students think about food, nutrition, farming and their impact on the environment. One afternoon, a student walked away with a turnip saying she had never tasted it before and did not know how to prepare it. Mr. Higashi taught her how to roast the vegetable she had just pulled from the garden, expecting her to let him know how it tasted the next day.

He cares deeply for each student’s socio-emotional well-being. Students describe him as patient, kind and encouraging. He creates relationships of trust with all his students. He listens to them, and they feel comfortable discussing difficult personal topics in his presence. Mr. Higashi is often the first person whom a student has ever opened up to. Many counseling meetings about personal student concerns are a direct result of his referrals. He provides an emotional safety net for students.

Posted in LifeChanger of the Year Nominees 2016-2017 and tagged .

25 Comments

  1. I just ran into this taking a peek at my old high school’s website, and this caught my eye! I hope to add to the stream of thankfulness here:

    I graduated from ASTI in 2012. I must say, I had my share of trials there. On an academic level, Mr. Higashi’s challenged me and my peers with zeal to ensure that we were prepared for college not just in the sciences, but also in the department of physical education. I came to SFSU prepared.
    Most of my trials however, stemmed from my immaturity. Not to say that I’ve got it all under control now — by no means! However, I thank God for placing Higashi in my life. I look back to those days, and truly, I can say Higashi was a source of blessing for me. He was there during a pivotal time in my life, and if he hadn’t been there to ask me what was wrong, listen attentively, share my burdens, and give advice , I’m not sure how high school would have panned out for me.

    Higashi, I thank you for your kindness and care – I’m not surprised to see many others coming to you for support. I hope that even these comments alone (but of course, an award would be lovely as well) encourage you. Thank you for helping me grow and for being an example of not only what it means to be a teacher under numerous areas of life, but also, of how to love others. You may not have known it, but I thank you, because you were one of the ones who helped change my life.

  2. Mr. Higashi is not only a dedicated teacher, but a dedicated role model. From teaching me basic biology , to lifelong lessons . He is without doubt and amazing, supportive and intelligent teacher. He has always been there for me and I know he will always be there to help and guide me . I went through a tough time earlier in the year and he made me feel like everything was going to be okay. He actually cared about my problems and not only did he listen, but he helped and searched for way to make things better. Higashi always makes me and all of his students smile and laugh . He’s hilarious and has a great personality. Not only does Higashi put his time and effort into being a biology teacher and a PE teacher , but he also runs green club at our school . Higashi takes time out of his day, weekends and summers to create a more green and safe environment at Asti . If he is not in the classroom then he is out in the school garden that he has created . Mr. Higashi has taught me so many aspects of life . He is truly an amazing teacher and friend. Mr. Higashi is the type of teacher to always ask how you are doing and to always follow up with you . If he sees that you are irritated, angry or sad he knows the right thing to do to make you happy and smile . I think the best thing about Higashi is his support and kindness . He always seems to make time to help his students even though he has so much work to do. Mr. Higashi is an outstanding mentor and friend. I’m glad that he is a part of the Asti community , because I couldn’t imagine it without him . He does everything with so much potential and love . I would like to thank him for everything he has done for me and for every student . Mr. Higashi truly deserves this award .

  3. He is always there for any student who is in need. He cares about his community in ways some teachers can only try to represent. He is known as the one teacher who is always there with a helping hand.

  4. In the many years of attending school, I’ve met many teachers. Every class was nothing more than mundane and the seconds that went by felt dreadful and slow. No teacher I’ve had actually cared about what they taught nor what the students got out of their class. It wasn’t until I attended ASTI, that I discovered class can actually be fun and something i look forward to. I had to privilege to take two of Higashi’s classes and they were truly life changing. Higashi never failed to make his students smile even on the worse of their days with his clever jokes, witty personality, and playful attitude. Admittedly, I am biased towards science, but Higashi was able to reinforce my interest and build on to my passion. He would go out of his way to make sure students understood the lecture as well as the assignments. On a deeper level, Higashi made me want to learn. He was able to show me that learning did not have to be mundane and dreary. I still remember the times Higashi shared the stories of his college experiences and the challenges he faced with organic chemistry. I was inspired by these stories and the following year I decided that I would follow his footsteps. It is an honor to have Higashi as a teacher as well as a friend and I can say with confidence that Higashi has truly changed my life.

  5. Mr. Higashi was my biology teacher in my freshman year. Although this was 2 years ago, I still remember Mr. Higashi being a caring and engaging teacher. He was an amazing lecturer, inspiring me to continue learning about biology and the sciences. Mr. Higashi also came up with a unique curriculum that went went beyond any of my expectations, and beyond biology. Some of my favorite assignments include a cancer-cure research project, and our final, a mock conference on global warming that really pushed me to understand my impact and the impact of humanity on humanity on our climate, and the little or big things we all can do to help it.

    Mr. Higashi has also headed the creation of a garden for our school. While I sadly can’t say that I have been a part of the garden, I can say that the food that has come out of it is amazing, and it has really helped our school become a more pleasant place.

    Todd Higashi is a humble, caring, and talented life changer. He truly deserves this award.

  6. I think the best thing about my relationship with Higashi is that even if we’re not close, without fail, almost every day he asks me how I’m doing when he sees me. In sophomore year, I went through something super difficult and not to get too personal but I ended up going to him about it. We haven’t talked like that since then but I know that no matter what, he’s the teacher who you can go to, who will be your friend in the absence of others, who’s a shoulder o cry on and a pair of ears to listen. He’s strict when he needs to be, and a friend when he needs to be. I dont know/ don’t think he remembers this but through my hard time I was going through, he told me “You have so much ahead of you, don’t give it up.”

    I can say the same for so many other students. I know that he has helped so many of my friends and classmates through difficult times because that’s just the type of person he is. I owe him a lot, and have a lot to thank him for. He deserves not only the LifeChanger award, but everything else that’s good in life.

  7. Mr. Higashi started teaching when I was a junior so I only had one class with him (it was photography, and a lot of fun), but I hung out in the science room at lunch. He was a wonderfully supportive teacher even for students not in his classes, and from the other posts here it looks like he still is.

    ASTI’s best quality is its teachers. Mr. Higashi in particular was always finding new ways to make our education mean something to us and expand what we learned and how we thought. The community garden at ASTI is a perfect example. Working together to create and maintain something that enriches the community is a life-changing experience and Mr. Higashi made that happen.

    He’s a great teacher and I’m lucky to have known him.

  8. As a colleague of Mr. Higashi I see every day the way he inspires students to go above and beyond in their school projects, learn to trust in each other and work on becoming better global citizens. The community garden he envisioned and built has truly enhanced student learning. In addition, he enthusiastically communicates his love of the art of photography to his students. Mr. Higashi is something every school should treasure- a program builder and shaper of positive culture. Their is no wonder that our school was recently named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education, and right and fitting that Mr. Higashi had the honor of receiving the award on our behalf. I enthusiastically support his nomination.

    Brian Rodriguez, ASTI Social Science, 2016 Gilder Lehrman California History Teacher of the Year

  9. There is so much to say about Mr. Higashi. Freshman year, I was a nervous, quiet student too afraid to open up to people. Circumstances in my life had caused me to build walls between myself and others, making me too afraid to reach out and connect with others. I was afraid to open up, and I had convinced myself I didn’t deserve to. However, Mr. Higashi changed that negative way of thinking I had. There are many things I must thank him for, and this one of the biggest ones–he was the first adult I ever felt comfortable enough to open up to, and the first person who helped me believe it is okay to express my emotions and ask for help.

    Throughout high school, he has been the person I go to if I have an issue, no matter how serious or how trivial. He’s always been my go-to for questions I’m a bit too embarrassed to ask other adults, like how hard I should shake someone’s hand when I meet them for the first time, or how to start a conversation, to more serious issues I’ve faced involving my family. I often worry about my family, and he is always there to offer me emotional support as well as concrete solutions and resources. I am grateful for the many times he has simply asked me how I’m doing.

    What I admire most about Higashi is how he goes above and beyond what is asked of him, out of love and care for the students. Who he is as a teacher is who I aim to be when I practice my profession. To get a bit more lighthearted, while some would ask “What would Oprah do?” when thinking about a decision they need to make, or what kind of person they want to be to others, I ask “What would Mr. Higashi do?”. As a board member of Green Club, the club that established the ASTI garden, I can attest to one of the many ways that he goes above and beyond with his contributions to ASTI. Planning for the garden was difficult, time consuming, and often stressful. However, Mr. Higashi never once left us on our own during this process, taking on many tasks himself. He gave us his extensive gardening knowledge, but also taught us how to improve as leaders and work as a team. I recall many fun moments bonding with him on weekend and after school garden work days, or picking up seedlings from the local nursery. He shows this same amount of dedication in the other clubs he is the advisor for, one of the many qualities of his I really look up to.

    In terms of academics, his biology class is one of the reasons I will be majoring in Biology when I begin college this fall. He showed us the ways biology can be used to improve others’ lives, and demonstrated a passion in the subject that really solidified my interest. He has helped me in my college classes when I wasn’t even taking one of his ASTI classes–I recall a time when he stayed after school to help me learn a chemistry concept that I needed to understand for a quiz I had in a few hours.

    Mr. Higashi is a role model and a mentor to me, and I can honestly say he is like family. There is much more to say, but for now, I’ll leave it at this–his support and encouragement is one of the reasons I am where I am today. He would never say this about himself, but Mr. Higashi really is a life changer. THANK YOU MR. HIGASHI!!!!!

  10. I met Mr. Higashi when I was in 10th grade. He was my PE, science seminar, media studies/photography teacher. I remember in 11th grade during science seminar, I’d ask him a bunch of questions (being a curious 15 year old and all), and he would answer. He would also quiz me on chemistry to ensure understanding. Fast forward years later, I’m a graduate student in the sciences and I can STILL remember why I decided to pursue higher education — because someone decided it was okay for a student to be curious and analytical. I also know a bunch of other random facts thanks to him.

  11. Mr. Higashi is an amazing teacher who is great at teaching both academic and moral principle. In a school where the majority of students are pressured to achieve high academic success, he teaches us that life isn’t just about good grades or money. If it weren’t for him, I would have never become conscious of how my own actions actually affect others on a global scale. Because of Mr. Higashi, I now rarely eat fast food because I have become conscious of the effects it has on my body and the ethical treatment of animals. In addition, he has taught my entire class the importance of our life choices and how every time we purchase a product made by slave labor, we are actively supporting these inhumane practices.

    Mr. Higashi is a superb teacher in terms of academics, but he is an even greater life changer who teaches students how to make the world a better place. When I first came to ASTI, there was nothing but portables. Now, just three years later, our school has grown a beautiful garden that never stops growing because of Mr. Higashi’s(and green club’s) hardwork. Just walking to school and seeing the garden reminds me of his message that we should always take care of our bodies and promote healthy life choices!

    Of course, Mr. Higashi has done much more than this in terms of changing my life, but this is what I will always remember him for. Thank you so much for being an amazing teacher and mentor Higashi, you inspire all of us to improve both ourselves and the world!

  12. Todd Higashi has been a stalwart champion for ASTI students, families, and staff for years now. I am proud to know him and be able to call him a colleague. I worked at ASTI many years ago before becoming Assistant Superintendent and now Superintendent here at Alameda Unified School District, and Todd has always stood out to me as one of our best and brightest and most committed teachers. ASTI and AUSD are both enriched by his presence and service, and please know I am delighted to tell you today he has changed the life of so many here for the better. Thank you, Todd! Whether it be his work on ASTI’s garden or in ASTI’s science classrooms and on its athletic fields, Todd is a champion!

    Sean McPhetridge, Superintendent of Alameda Unified School District and former Principal of ASTI

  13. It has been roughly 3 years since my first day at ASTI, and throughout these past three years, Mr. Higashi has done more than just be my biology, physical education, and media studies teacher. He has gone beyond those responsibilities of just being a teacher to becoming a person who I can trust to discuss my problems and to help me overcome the tough situations that I experience as a high schooler. Whenever I run into a problem involving school or in life, Mr. Higashi has always been there to make me laugh with his comments or to give me meaningful advice to combat the situation. His competitive, but understanding personality has made him a popular figure as school as many of my classmates and friends flock to his classroom after school to challenge him in a game of deuces or a trending gaming app like Facebook Messenger’s new basketball game. Of all the teachers at ASTI, Mr. Higashi has always been the one to stay till 5-6 pm in order to supervise the activities that students take a part of like Yearbook and ASTI’s school garden. While most ASTI teachers leave after school, Mr. Higashi stays behind to help ASTI kids to pursue outside activities that will benefit them in their development to a better leader.

    I still remember the day that I went to Mr. Higashi’s classroom feeling scared that I would be under one of the hardest biology teacher that I would experience in my life. Nevertheless, my expectations were actually the opposite of what I felt. Mr. Higashi puts the fun in biology and allows students to develop their own research project independently. He coaches students in helping them write their research proposals and labs, but students are given the independence to decide for themselves what they want to learn about. I think this is one of the things that makes Mr. Higashi such a great teacher. The way he “takes off the training wheel” for his students in allowing them to design their own research projects and experiments have definitely helped me realize that school is not just a confinement, but rather an environment for students to thrive and learn.

    Aside from being an astonishing teacher, Mr. Higashi is a great friend and mentor. Sometimes, most students would feel uncomfortable talking to their high school teachers, but Mr. Higashi is an exception to that fact. He understands the things that high school student feel and are able to connect with them. He assimilates into the culture of teenagers, often cracking jokes or teasing students in a good way. His comments are extremely humorous, but reasonable. Mr. Higashi has definitely made an impact in my life, and I really can’t imagine ASTI without Mr. Higashi. When I leave ASTI in less than a year, I’ll definitely miss Mr. Higashi. For everything that he was done, he deserves this award more than anyone.

  14. Mr. Higashi is not only a teacher of many subjects (Biology, Current Life, Media Studies, P.E., etc.), but he is also contributes to the production of the school yearbook, and best of all, he subdues the teacher-and-student relationship and instead treats you as a friend.

    Building stable bonds with your students is a very fundamental feature for a genuine high school experience. Mr. Higashi has easily proven for many of his current students and past ones that high school can be a comfortably enjoyable chapter in our lives after all. I find that the monumental decision to attend ASTI has become unregrettable especially because of Mr. Higashi.

    In everything he loves to do, he chooses to excel beyond limits. Because of that, his capabilities and overall persona continuously transcend words. There is always a lack of better explanation when it comes to Mr. Higashi.

    If you’ve ever met someone in your life that is so great that you can’t describe them in the perfect way, that’s the kind of person Mr. Higashi is. And if that’s not a characteristic that can constitute them as a life-changing person, then I personally don’t know what is.

  15. Mr. Higashi has always believed in his students and constantly pushes them to become the better version of themselves. He is there to listen to his students; whether it would be about their personal lives and/or academic. I think the term “LifeChanger” is not enough to describe him, but more like a “catalyst”. He has worked so hard to make ASTI a better institution by starting initiatives for and opportunities for his students.

    You have inspired me so much, Mr. Higashi. I recently just graduated from University of Redlands and I still think that you’re one of the best teachers/mentors I’ve ever had. Thank you for teaching me how to believe in myself even when no one else does.

  16. Higashi is the kind of teacher who goes beyond the classroom. He takes the effort to care for former students who graduated from ASTI even to this day. I definitely believe that Higashi is a life changer.

  17. Todd Higashi was one of the best teachers I’ve had throughout the time of my highschool years. Each time I went to his class I was able to actually grasp the concepts of biology and it impacted me today. I have a huge passion for bio and I’d like to further explore it. Although I only had him for 1 year, he contributed to the ASTI community a lot, changing grass and it’s sandy soil, and turning it into an actual garden. Year by year when I visit and passby, it grows bigger and bigger. Higashi isn’t only a life changer, he’s an inspiration.

  18. Mr. Higashi is very dedicated and caring to his students. It was always easy to open up to Mr. Higashi because of his attentiveness and his willingness to go the extra mile to understand his students both academically and personally. He is passionate in everything he does and you can definitely see that he enjoys what he does. I would not be where I am at today without Mr. Higashi’s advice and support. To this day, I still keep in touch with him, which shows how caring he is since he is willing to take the time to talk and listen to you even if you are not his student anymore.

  19. My whole life I have been surrounded and supported by strong women but Higashi is one of the very few male role models I have. He has shown me how good guys are supposed to be. I think he has devoted a lot of time and efforts towards making sure he is able to be supportive to as many students as possible. I know he has changed my life and many others whether that’s through teaching, mentoring, advising or simply being a friend.

    For me, Higashi was my teacher, mentor, advisor and friend at different points of my high school career. Amongst many memorable moments one stood out most, which was at the beginning of my sophomore year. My family had been going through some challenges and Higashi provided the emotional support that I didn’t realize I needed until he came up to me and sincerely asked how I was doing. Recalling this moment even now brings me to tears. What we had talked about and his encouragement really changed how I perceived myself, my situation and the challenges ahead.

    Higashi is very humble but I cannot emphasize enough how much he had changed my life. Higashi definitely deserves the LifeChanger Award.

  20. Having Mr. Higashi as a teacher for four years at Alameda Science and Technology Institute has been a life changing experience for me. Not only has he challenged me academically, he has helped me become the person I am today, constantly trying to better myself and become sensitive to many things I wouldn’t have considered important. For example, in my freshman year of high school, he spent time teaching me the values of the LGBTQ community, which in turn has made me pay more attention to the rights and advocacies that the community is fighting for.

    In addition, Mr. Higashi has truly made an effort in teaching both me and each student he faces the benefits of eating healthy and being active. To Mr. Higashi, P.E. is not just an hour where kids can mess around and get an A. He expects that students take full advantage of being outside or in the gym, and be active. Whether it’s basketball, running, football, or frisbee, he makes the full effort so that students stay healthy. His competitive spirit has influenced me and many other students to stay active and get the right amount of exercise, if not more than the “required” amount.

    Outside of classes, he runs the community garden right outside of our classrooms. I have seen the struggles of him trying to get this program started. I’ve participated with many other students in building the garden from the soil up. Although I cannot say I helped with planning, I’ve seen the dedication Mr. Higashi has towards this garden. Students offer their time during lunch hours, after school, or even coming to school earlier to help assist with the garden. While attending classes during the summer at College of Alameda, I have seen many students tending to the garden. To the students of ASTI, doing this is not just for fun. They do this because they understand this is a collective effort of the teacher and the students. Mr. Higashi often steps back after setting the foundation necessary to run a community garden, allowing students to learn how to lead others and delegate tasks to members of his very loved Green Club. However, the garden is not used to grow food just for fun. He uses this opportunity to teach others, like me, about eating healthy and self-grown foods and crops. He has taught me the lessons of eating healthy without sitting me down and giving me an hour lecture on a powerpoint he created. Rather, he has created a hands-on experience that I have truly experienced while attending high school.

    There are so many other things he has helped me with outside of school. Whether it’s giving me the opportunity to choose a company to print out yearbooks for Yearbook Club or allowing me to lead students in P.E, Mr. Higashi has truly gone above and beyond the call of duty as a teacher. Humor comes easy with Mr. Higashi. Often times, we will joke around and talk about movies or games. It’s tough to find this quality in other teachers because they are generally hired to do one job: teach. Nevertheless, Mr. Higashi has fulfilled more than just the qualifications of a “Science/P.E.” teacher. I came to ASTI assuming all I was ever going to do was work and go home. Mr. Higashi has given me and other students the opportunities to learn new things that a classroom environment wouldn’t provide. Truly a “LifeChanger”, Mr. Higashi has continued to be in my life after high school. Often catching up with my college life or having a casual conversation about our days, he has honestly made my life better. It is truly my honor to write this comment for others to know how life-changing Todd Higashi is.

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