Oct. 4, 2022
Arroyo High School geology teacher Toshimi Fujikawa has ascended a stairway of recognition for her commitment to student learning, culminating in a national Teacher of the Year Award from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.
Fujikawa received the award on Aug. 29 in Houston during a joint annual conference of the AAPG and Society for Exploratory Geologists (pictured). That capped a journey that began in 2020, when she received the local Northern California Geological Society Teacher of the Year award, followed by the AAPG’s regional Pacific section award last year. The 2022 award came with a $6,000 prize, half of which will go to support the geology program at Arroyo High.
On Oct. 4, her success was honored by the San Lorenzo Unified School District Board of Education in a presentation led by Tracie Noriega, assistant superintendent for educational services, who cited “the incredible work she does to support her students.”
Now in her sixth year as a teacher, all at Arroyo High, Fujikawa said the progression of awards feels like an affirmation of her abilities and her student-centered approach to the profession.
“Yeah, I am good at my job, and my students do really like my lessons, and people do notice that I’m doing something worth doing,” Fujikawa said. “It’s extremely humbling but also very rewarding for me to be recognized.”
The Oakland native had a research career in mind when she completed her bachelor’s degree in geology at the University of California, Davis, but with job prospects dimmed by a recession, she found herself working in sales for Macy’s in San Leandro, eventually stepping into a sales and marketing role for Azuma Foods International in Hayward.
But geology still beckoned, this time with a pull toward teaching, inspired by volunteer work she did with teenagers through church. That meant a return to college, at California State University, East Bay, where she earned a secondary teaching credential in geosciences in 2017 and a Master of Science in Educational Instruction/Technology in 2021.
In the classroom, Fujikawa strives to help students appreciate that they live in a region ideal for study of geology, with seismic faults and a monumental history of geothermal and glacial transformation. Her parents shared that appreciation with her during multiple family trips to national parks, she said.
“I tell my students that they live in one of the most geologically interesting places on Earth,” Fujikawa said. “People come from around the world to study here, so they’re lucky to have all of this in their backyard.”
She combines that message with a determination to “really get to know” and “get comfortable with” her students so they in turn are comfortable with her and open to learning.
“It helps me understand them and what they’re struggling with, and they open up to me about things,” Fujikawa said. “So there’s that level of understanding, and having that relationship – that really helps.”
One way she combines her passion for geology and student success is inviting students and colleagues to join her on occasional weekend hikes and explore geology up close – for example, the Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve in the Oakland Hills.
“The students have the whole world outside of them, and they kind of have their little bubble,” Fujikawa said. “But I want to show them what the rest of the world is like and what’s actually happening – why things are the way they are and what’s the relationship between them and their surroundings.”