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Presenting Hudson Valley Magazine’s Teacher Appreciation Awards

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Meet the reader-nominated teachers who are making a difference in the Hudson Valley and doing all they can to shape education in an unprecedented time.

By Sierra Guardiola and Kathryn Walsh
Featuring photography by Kenneth Gabrielsen
All other photos courtesy of respective teachers

We asked readers to help us celebrate local educators by nominating a teacher to honor in the magazine. The response was overwhelming. What follows are excerpts from the nominations, as well as teachers’ feedback on how they’ve made the most of this unprecedented year.


Preschool

Photo by Ken Gabrielsen

– Paula Zahurak –

MidHudson Regional Early Education Center (Hyde Park location)
Years Teaching: 40

Nomination:
Paula has been my co-worker in a self-contained special ed preschool classroom for the past 10 years. She has been an inspiration to me. She is one of the most hardworking and dedicated individuals I know. … She plans each weekly lesson with not only the curriculum in mind, but also the child’s interests. Paula makes learning fun!
—Co-worker

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
The highlight for my classroom was developing a relationship with the parents that flourished as we talked and did remote learning until September (we now teach in the hybrid model). …The students were very frustrated and confused about why they couldn’t come to school. I learned that structure and routine were even more important now for my students. I worked with the parents to make visual schedules and on establishing a daily routine for their child. Daily contact was important through phone calls and e-mail.


Kindergarten

– Stacy Ricci –

Garrison School, Garrison Union Free School District
Years teaching: 15

Nomination:
Mrs. Ricci is an excellent and thoughtful teacher. The amount of time she spends outside of school preparing for this new way of school really shows. Every day the passion she shows inside the classroom and toward the kids shows on the excitement on my child’s face [when] he comes home.
—Parent of a student

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
Highlights were becoming an expert in Google Classroom and Zoom; both new to me! Teaching in-person when many have been remote. We’ve bounced back and forth between both realms and have adapted quite well. Gaining more understanding, support, and appreciation from the community for all that we do — thank you! I learned that resilience and flexibility are key. We try to focus on going with the flow and finding silver linings where we can. I’ve also used more body language through teaching in a mask because you need more than just facial expressions.

– Meredith Schwarze –

Beekman Elementary School, Arlington Central School District
Years Teaching: 7

Nomination:
She loves her job, and loves to see the children excel and grow.
—Relative

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
It’s not about where you teach, but how you teach! Even though I am missing my classroom and seeing students in person, I have been able to find ways for students to engage and get excited to learn over a computer screen. Being able to still experience those ‘light bulb’ moments with my students, fills my teacher heart. 

– Kathleen Thompson –

Ralph R. Smith Elementary School, Hyde Park Central School District
Years Teaching: 25

Nomination:
Kathleen is constantly looking for new ways to engage her students. She even went door-to-door to give graduating kindergarteners their diplomas in June. She made them special diplomas and hats and hand-delivered them. She truly loves her students! She is an inspiration and the person who inspired me to go back to school to teach. Every student is so lucky to have her.
—Co-worker and parent of former student

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
Since the decision to close schools was made on a day that we had a training day, we were saddened that we never got to say a proper, in-person ‘good-bye’ to our students. Therefore, the staff members who worked in my classroom participated in an end-of-the-year drive-by to each student’s house. …Being flexible and building relationships with students and their families is always important as an educator, but it is especially vital during remote and hybrid learning. My students and I are using new skills that we had never done in kindergarten prior to the pandemic.

– Kristen Higgins –

Van Cortlandtville Elementary, Lakeland Central School District
Years teaching: 14

Nomination:
Mrs. Higgins has expanded my child’s love of learning and continues to provide him with new challenges and a sense of pride in his work. I am grateful that she is my son’s teacher during this unprecedented time.
—Parent of a student

– Anya Konstantinou –

James S. Evans Elementary School, Wappingers Central School District
Years teaching: 19

Nomination:
Anya blows me away with her spirit and connection to each and every child. Anya is a unique human. As an educator, sister, parent, spouse…she is an angel on this earth.
—Relatives


Photo by Michael Rozman/Warner Bros.

– Teacher on TV –

Melissa Stewart got the surprise of her life on Ellen.

By Katie Anne Gannon

The nomination we received for Melissa Stewart was very simple: It was a link to the Nov. 18 episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show where the Cornwall-on-Hudson Elementary School kindergarten teacher was called up to the stage to receive $35,000 in gifts for her efforts during the pandemic, which included socially distanced visits to each of her students’ homes in the spring to “let them know I didn’t leave them,”  she told host Ellen DeGeneres.

Stewart, an 11-year teaching veteran, was prompted to do this when she received emails from parents saying their children were stressed and anxious due to the sudden shift to online learning in March. She dropped off bubbles and chalk, read, played, ate cookies, and let them know that she “loved them and that everything was going to be okay.” In the early fall, she prepared and delivered educational toolkits to her new students.

“I’m extremely humbled by the whole situation,” says Stewart, who thought her big prize was getting to be an audience member. Instead she was gifted with video messages from her students, $20,000 for laptops for her class and the school, and an additional $15,000 to pay off her student loans.

Stewart says the hardest thing for her during the pandemic “has been watching my students struggle and not being able to help them through a screen. When you’re talking to a 5 year old, they don’t exactly know what’s going on.”

“I am truly blessed and honored to teach,” she continues. “We can do anything as a classroom family if we just support each other!”


Kindergarten & 2nd Grade, Special Education

– Kelly Duane-Kilpert –

Haldane Elementary School, Haldane Central School District
Years teaching: 21

Nomination:
Mrs. Kilpert was instrumental in keeping my grandson focused and engaged while being homeschooled during the spring COVID lockdown. She took extra time to play games with him in addition to schoolwork. She actually met with him once a week during the entire summer!
Grandparent of a student

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
The best part has been the wonderful opportunity to strengthen the home/school connection with families. Parents and teachers have been able to celebrate student successes in real-time and create a truly collaborative learning environment. …My students have been little heroes and their success was my reward. I’m so fortunate to have a ‘village’ of amazing students, families, and educators at Haldane!


1st Grade

– Caroline Ferrieri –

Beekman Elementary School, Arlington Central School District
Years teaching: 23

Nomination:
Caroline is a teacher of 23 years, a mother of two, and an amazing wife. She gives her everything to her students and treats every one of them as if they were her own. Caroline spends countless hours every day planning and making sure every detail is addressed so that her students can have the best school experience possible. In a time when teachers are not deemed essential or given the credit they deserve, this is my way of showing her the respect and accolades she, as well as all teachers, deserve!
Spouse

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
One thing that has made my teacher heart so full, is how resilient and flexible kids can be. As educators, we have been asked to be more flexible than ever before. We have had to adapt to a whole new way of teaching. It has been difficult. But seeing these amazing kids consistently rising to the challenge, greeting each day with a smile, has been all that I needed. I am forever grateful for what my students and this experience have taught me about courage, resilience, and most importantly, hope.

– Stephanie Hoffman –

Minisink Valley Elementary School, Minisink Valley Central School District
Years teaching: 21

Nomination:
She has such a gentle caring heart for each one of her students. She uses positive reinforcement daily, and she brings out the best out in each and every one of her students.
Parent of student

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
The students that I was blessed to have, have taught me more than they will ever know. Each day as we logged on, I began to realize I needed them as much as they needed me. We became each other’s daily dose of love and laughter during difficult times — a daily constant of smiles and joke of the day.’ These students remind me of the important balance between academics and mental health. Listening, empathy, emotion management, and problem-solving are just a few of the treasures they taught me.

– Caitlin Barry –

Arthur S. May Elementary School, Arlington Central School District, Poughkeepsie
Years teaching: 7

Nomination:
She’s such a hard worker and has been coming up with new and fun ideas for her students during the pandemic and always has a smile on her face.
—Relatives

– Megan Collins –

EJ Russell Elementary School, Pine Bush Central School District
Years teaching: 3

Nomination:
She goes above and beyond for her students every day and has risen to the challenge of teaching in COVID times.
—Friend

– Janeen Duncan –

Fishkill Elementary School, Wappingers Central School District
Years teaching: 17

Nomination:
She cares immensely for her students and makes teaching a fun, immersive, and special experience for each of her students.
—Relative

– Arlene Mendock –

Robert Graves Elementary School, Kingston City School District
Years teaching: 32  

Nomination:
The amount of dedication can be seen in the untold hours committed to doing the best for her students. She exemplifies patience, empathy, and dedication to her students.
—Friend


2nd Grade

– Colleen Norris –

Harry L. Edson Elementary School, Kingston City School District
Years teaching: 7

Nomination:
We have been doing remote learning since September 2020. Our granddaughter has become a wonderful student. She answers questions. She also has become an amazing reader! Thank you, Mrs. Norris for your diligence!!
Grandparent of a student

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
This was not your typical school year by any means, but there were great, shining moments throughout. I believe one of the strongest things to come out of this has been the ability of my students to adapt to an ever-changing school environment and persevere through it all.

– Sharon McInerney –

Phoenicia Elementary, Onteora Central School District
Years teaching: 28

Nomination:
Ms. McInerney has found a way to safely recreate the excitement and sense of discovery associated with field trips…by organizing virtual, real-time field trips, which her students are experiencing by logging on to their Chromebooks at the appointed times. So far, her class has visited’ the Doug Peltzman Pottery Studio in Shokan as well as the home of a Quarterhorse named Dudley. The field trips, which often attract parents and other family members, are helping to forge ties within the class, within families, and with the community at large.
Co-worker

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
Our 2nd grade classroom has been 100% remote since September, and of course, like anything, there are always challenges. However, I have to honestly say it has been absolutely heartwarming the way that our classroom community (kids, parents, families, colleagues) has truly come together to help one another. …Every day and every class we all chime in to help with the technology, with academics, with encouragement. That alone has made our online classroom a success.

– Sara Andrews –

Horizons-on-the-Hudson Magnet School, Newburgh Enlarged City School District
Years teaching: 13

Nomination:
She inspires me to be a better teacher each and every day. She accommodates all of her students’ needs, whatever they may be!
—Co-worker

– Nicole Bomba –

Brinckerhoff Elementary School, Wappingers Central School District
Years teaching: 14

Nomination:
I see first-hand how hard she works and how much she gives of herself. Her students are very blessed to have a teacher who cares so much for them and their education. This is all done while raising her own family and dealing with some health issues.
—Relative

– Jennifer Campbell –

Central Valley Elementary School, Monroe-Woodbury Central School District
Years teaching: 24

Nomination:
I have seen the dedication and commitment to her students. Even during the COVID pandemic, she still devotes herself to educating her students.
—Friend

– Josiah Peparo –

Haldane Elementary School, Haldane Central School District
Years teaching: 20

Nomination:
Mr. Peparo goes above and beyond expectations to make each child feel special and to create an interesting and thought-provoking school environment!
—Grandparent of a student

– Chelsea Veach –

Little Britain Elementary School, Washingtonville Central School District
Years Teaching: 5

Nomination:
She is a teacher who gives her heart and soul to her profession. …She engages with parents and encourages the relationship between teaching, the child, and the parent to create the best environment for each child educationally. Her passion is amazing!
—Relative


3rd Grade

Photo by Kenneth Gabrielsen

– Jo-Ann More –

Carrie E. Tompkins Elementary School, Croton-Harmon Union Free School District
Years teaching: 17

Nomination:
My family chose to do fully remote for various reasons, but mostly for consistency. My daughter lightly struggles with several subjects, and I thought she would do better with one teacher than in a hybrid situation. I thought I could always pull her out and homeschool her if it went terribly. Mrs. More had me convinced within two days that this was the best decision I could have made. She is engaged and funny. She has the patience of a saint while encouraging all of the kids to have a say and enter into discussion in a community format. Her love for her students and her devotion to teaching is apparent every day, and I am so thankful that my child was placed in her virtual hands this year.
Parent of a student

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
The highlights were how resilient the kids were. I was fortunate to have a special group of kids that truly demonstrated a growth mindset. I contacted a butterfly farm and had over 150 larvae delivered to my home so that the third graders would not miss having the opportunity to raise butterflies. I also offered any child a visit from me to do a sidewalk chat — socially distanced. This was to give them a chance to discuss what was on their minds. …I learned to focus on the positive and to be open to change. I learned that with the right mindset, anything is possible.

– Jill Stramiello –

Minisink Valley Intermediate School, Minisink Valley Central School District
Years teaching: 21

Nomination:
Jill is an amazing colleague! She creates lessons for our team, daily and weekly, to help ease our minds and workload. She is a new grandma, with baby and family living in her home! Jill uses her personal time to fill in the gaps we need for weekly and daily lessons. She is our focus and our rock … always guiding us with her Google expertise! Without Jill, I am confident our grade level would crumble! We are thankful for Jill, the glue that holds us together!!
Co-worker

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
Teaching in 2020-21 has been an adventure. It has been challenging for students, parents, and teachers. But throughout it I have learned that students are much more resilient than we give them credit for. They adapted and grew, regardless of the obstacles they faced. The students never cease to amaze me.


3rd–5th Grade, Special Education

– Kelli Schwarze-Snowden –

Dutchess BOCES at Vail Farm Elementary, Arlington Central School District
Years of teaching: 12

Nomination:
She works hard and loves all of her students.
—Relative


4th Grade

– Claire Eckert –

Cottage Lane Elementary, South Orangetown Central School District
Years teaching: 16

Nomination:
Claire has a child in her class, this year and last, that is wheelchair (cruiser) bound. She started pushing him around while running at recess and saw how much he loved racing’ with Mrs. Eckert, so Claire now runs races while pushing him. They have run 5Ks and half marathons together. She is so special and would do anything to put a smile on her students’ faces.
Friend and parent in the district

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
I was fortunate to have looped with my class during the pandemic. These children are like my own family and I love them so much! They make me smile every single day. It is amazing to see firsthand just how resilient and adaptive children are! I am so proud of their perseverance through such trying times. 

– Michele Grossman –

Pequenakonck Elementary School, North Salem Central School District
Years teaching: 29

Nomination:
Mrs. Grossman went above and beyond last spring when COVID stopped in-person school. My daughter started withdrawing from everything after being home for weeks/months before the end of the [school] year. Mrs. Grossman made sure to reach out daily to her. The last day of school, she held a car parade to see all her students and even came by to see our pets that my daughter had been showing her via Google Meets all spring. …Mrs. Grossman brings the sparkle back into my daughter’s eyes; she is one incredibly amazing teacher!
Parent of student

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
When kindness is at the heart of what we do, we grow in our humanity, our tenacity, our understanding of each other and the world. Challenges help us to grow, to persevere, to reflect, and to love. I am grateful for my students who have been a shining light this past year.


K–4th Grade, Literacy

– Kira Tutko –

George Washington Elementary School, Kingston City School District
Years teaching: 7

Nomination:
During this pandemic, many teachers like Kira have worked countless nights to make their class virtual. But Kira has special education students and knew her kids needed more than just converting a classroom to a video environment. To make her kids feel more comfortable, she made Bitmojis of the school’s faculty and staff to welcome all of GW Elementary School into a virtual environment. Then she made custom sensory educational tools for her students, dropped them off, and also helped for a drive-by parade.
Friend

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
In 2020, I was able to be part of an amazing work community who came together to do everything we could for our students. We became a family who supported each other…and we continue to do so. My students’ entire world changed, but they still came online with a smiling face, which in turn, allowed me to push my feelings aside and give them my best. Flexibility and open mindedness were my key terms of 2020.


K–4th Grade, Math

Patricia Lynch (Center), with Principal Dr. Kern Mojica and Laurie Perrino, technology support staff

– Patricia Lynch –

Carrie E. Tompkins Elementary, Croton-Harmon Union Free School District
Years teaching: 32

Nomination:
Mrs. Lynch is the most engaging teacher I’ve ever encountered. She uses songs and silly stories to make math fun, which is difficult in person, but even more so remotely. When the pandemic first began last year, she also made enrichment packets for any CET student to pick up on her porch. These were a huge help to all my children.
Parent of a student

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
My students have been amazingly resilient, helpful, patient, and quick to laugh and participate during our Zooms. I love keeping learning and laughing going for students during their very complex remote learning days. I do have to compliment my administration and our tech team: I was, and still am, very needy in getting things to flow smoothly but… we are succeeding!


1st–8th Grade

Photo by PS Photography

– Winnie Stern –

Green Meadow Waldorf School, Chestnut Ridge
Years teaching: 8

Nomination:
Winnie is an amazing teacher … She teaches her students starting in the first grade and continues teaching them until the eighth grade. The whole class moves up together! She knows how to relate to each child based on growing together over the years. This year, she has created fun, interactive STEAM projects that kids completed at home, with general kitchen ingredients, during the fall COVID-19 quarantine.
School Board member

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
I learned something new every day last year — from how to upload assignments online to how to lip read and know when to say, We can’t hear you. You have to unmute yourself.’ [Last year] also taught me and my students how to be truly flexible. We are expert contortionists now!


5th–8th Grade, Science

– Diana Spera –

Saint Denis – Saint Columba School, Hopewell Junction
Years teaching: 21

Nomination:
Diana has led the science department for the fifth through eighth grades and created many individualized labs so students can learn hands-on. …This year she has adapted to accommodating virtual, hybrid and in-person teaching. Knowing her personally, I can attest to the many hours and late nights she has spent preparing and executing excellent teaching lessons for her students. She truly is an asset to the Hudson Valley with her great teaching over the years, especially adapting this year… to make sure all students receive the education they should!
Relative

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
Teaching in 2020-21 was both challenging and exciting. … At the heart of this all has been the desire of teachers to reach out to our students to keep them actively engaged in their learning. My greatest highlight included the many faces of my students on Zoom meetings, asking questions, answering questions, and simply sharing a learning environment together. I have learned so much from my students! They taught me to adapt to changing situations without stressing over all the tiny details, and that keeping a positive attitude will carry you through the tough times. Oh, and they taught me how to pin a participant on a Zoom meeting, along with many other technical shortcuts!


6th Grade, Math, Science & Social Studies  

Cassandra Darling

Kinry Road Elementary School, Wappingers Central School District
Years teaching: 8

Nomination:
She loves helping kids and seeing them succeed.
—Relative


6th Grade, Math and Social Studies

– Kathleen Lacker –

South Orangetown Middle School, South Orangetown Central School District
Years teaching: 27

Nomination:
Ms. Lacker supported the students transitioning from elementary school to middle school by providing clear direction and organized work assignments during a pandemic. …The kids know what she expects of them, and they step up to the challenge. She is authentic. She has shared that she had to work hard at math as a kid. She shows the kids that they can build confidence and improve their math skills over time.
Parent of a student

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
As with any year, my students have taught me resilience, perseverance, and teamwork. They show up with smiles and enthusiasm with a willingness to learn even when they have their own challenges at home. I’ve had to learn so much new technology this year and am thankful for the support of families and colleagues!


6th–8th Grade, Business and Career

– Maura Koch –

Blue Mountain Middle School, Hendrick Hudson School District
Years teaching: 26

Nomination:
Maura is a hard-working, dedicated teacher who has helped hundreds of students during her years as a teacher. She is the teacher every student wished they had. She always finds the beauty in her students and works tirelessly to be sure they understand the material and succeed. During this pandemic she has been teaching in school, trying to navigate keeping her students safe from the virus in such close quarters. She has brought in her own fans, cleansers, etc. and takes extra care to wipe everything down. She is definitely an essential worker with a huge heart.
Friends and parent of a student


6th–8th Grade, Social Studies and ELA

– Katherine Loftus –

CJ Hooker Middle School, Goshen Central School District
Years teaching: 18

Nomination:
Kate is loved by all the students who have worked with her, either in the classroom or on stage (she is the theater director for school musicals). [In normal times] she opens her classroom for her students to have Loftus Lunch, to spend time with her and with their friends eating together. Students know, my own included, that they can count on Kate to support them in any way she can. Although there may not be a musical this year, my children feel very blessed to have worked with her during their middle school careers.
Parent of a student


4th–12th Grade, Music

Photo by Kenneth Gabrielsen

– Clayton Chan –

Tuxedo Union Free School District
Years teaching: 5

Nomination:
Mr. Chan has changed the culture of the school for our students. He inspires kids to try new things in music and video production. But more than that, he has been a strong support system for the students throughout COVID by continuing to run clubs and music groups virtually, creating virtual concerts, and student-driven videos for the community. He not only engages his students and inspires enthusiasm, but he listens to them and helps them when they need it. He even created individual videos to help my daughter better comprehend some algebra assignments she was struggling with! He has brought a newfound appreciation for the arts to our school.
Parent of student

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
Teaching music in 2020-21 has definitely been an experience to remember. I will never forget how many hours my students and I put into making our first virtual concert. The recording process from home is so different from live performance, but we wanted to show the community that the pandemic can’t hold back the arts.


7th Grade, Math

– Angelina Vazquez –

Lagrange Middle School, Arlington Central School District
Years teaching: 9

Nomination:
Through a tough year, Ms. Vazquez has been there for her students. She continued to support her students through the roughest parts of 2020.
Parent of a student


K–8th Grade, English as a New Language

– Josephine Giglia Byrne –

Temple Hill Academy, Newburgh Enlarged City School District
Years teaching: 26

Nomination:
Mrs. Giglia-Byrne goes far above and beyond not only for her students and their families, but for the teachers she works with. She often puts in extra hours, especially during these times we are currently in.
—Co-worker


K–12th Grade

– Bethany Ellis –

JL Performance Horses Homeschoolers Horsemanship, Poughqaug
Years teaching: 20

Nomination:
Always an optimistic, patient, creative approach to excite children to learn and accomplish great things.
—Parent of a student


8th–12th Grade

– Faculty of the New York Military Academy –

Through their dedication and commitment, the teachers kept our school safe, open, and imparted in-person instruction six days a week from September through November, and were enthusiastically back in the classroom in January 2021.
—Dean of Academics and parent of students


6th–12th Grade, Speech Language Pathology

– Kayla Bishop –

Washingtonville Middle and High School, Washingtonville Central School District
Years teaching: 11

Nomination:
Kayla is the most caring, kind and patient teacher I know. She is so excited and enthusiastic about her work and finding the best ways for [students] to succeed to the best of their abilities. She is totally focused on the specific goals and needs of every one of her kids and they all can’t wait to get to her class!
Co-worker

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
One positive of teaching in 2020-21 as a speech-language pathologist has been the ability to use technology to better work together with students and their families utilizing a team approach. With all of the challenges, the students have remained a source of inspiration. They have demonstrated the ability to be flexible and learn/master new technological tools, as well as be resilient with all of the ongoing changes. They have maintained a growth mindset and positive outlook even though many of their school opportunities have been altered.


8th–12th Grade, Science  and Math

– Everly Platon –

New York Military Academy, Cornwall-on-Hudson
Years of teaching: 23

Nomination:
Everly Platon is the most kind-hearted, generous, and joyful person. … Her lessons are exciting and creative. In her forensics class, for instance, she created a crime scene outside the library for her students to uncover the events by discovering evidence. It is not uncommon to hear, She is my favorite teacher!’ Committed to in-person instruction during COVID-19, the NYMA students remained on campus from early September to late November, vowing to keep the community safe from the virus. Absent visits home, Ms. Platon volunteered on weekends, brought in special treats from home, and was always a welcoming face during uncertain times.
Dean of Academics at NYMA and a parent of students

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
The challenging year made most of us, if not all, resilient and strong in character. I am forever indebted and grateful to the NYMA, the administrators, staff, teachers, students, parents, and guardians. I learned and felt so much appreciation and determination from this community that I will never experience from any other place. No matter how socially distanced we are, working together in mind and spirit made us achieve great things.


9th–12th Grade, Music

Photo by Sarah Hafey

– Andy Wrba –

The Darrow School, New Lebanon
Years teaching: 7

Nomination:
In addition to performing his job at an exemplary level, Mr. Wrba demonstrates an extraordinary commitment to the Darrow community, working to cultivate a creative and safe space for students to find their voice and develop their identity through music. His leadership, was never more apparent than during these difficult times. Creatively considering how COVID impacts our ability to perform on stage, Mr. Wrba impressively choreographed a musical performance featuring a cast and crew of socially distancing Darrow students, all captured in one single shot. In 2012, he founded the Berkshire Jazz Collective, using his diverse musical strengths to create music that serves the region.
Co-workers

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
I have two highlights from this year. First, I’m amazed, but not surprised, by the resilience and dedication from every student, teacher, and Darrow community member that took the necessary steps to ensure a safe and COVID-free school year. Secondly, the experience of creating the latest Tannery Sessions, “Dreams” (darrowschool.org/tannery-sessions)…The social and physical limitations that have been in place this year didn’t stop our students from learning, making music, or participating in athletics. We simply changed our approach and made the best of each situation, sometimes resulting in something really special that might not have happened if it were a normal year. 


9th–12th Grade, Living Environment and Science Research

– Jennifer Maloney –

Spackenkill High School, Spackenkill Union Free School District
Years teaching: 18

Nomination:
My bride has been teaching for many years and only cares for her students. She tirelessly spends time caring, teaching, and going above and beyond for her students. The love and respect she receives from her students validates my beliefs that she is one of the Hudson Valley’s best teachers.
Spouse

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
Perspective is key. We will be OK. Content is second to supporting, understanding, and being present in our students’ struggles. They teach me. This is an opportunity to connect with students outside the classroom walls: Share pets, family, food. Make time to laugh!


9th–12th Grade, Math

– Gregory Licht –

Pearl River High School, Pearl River School District
Years Teaching: 26 

Nomination:
Greg has always been a dedicated math teacher with a true heart for his students. Even now, during COVID, he has gone over and above to help teach them and give them a love for math. He works tirelessly to come up with ways to engage the students virtually as well as live. He is the epitome of a great teacher!
Relative


10th Grade, Math

– Jeffrey Dudzic –

Catskill High School, Catskill Central School District
Years teaching: 29

Nomination:
I have worked with Mr. Dudzic for about 10 years, and the lessons he presents are excellent. He has a sense of humor which the students appreciate. His students generally do well on the geometry Regents. I work as a substitute teacher regularly in Catskill, and I go to his class on my free periods as well as after school to help students. He includes me as a member of the class. He really cares about his students.
Co-worker

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
I think that it was great how many schools throughout the Hudson Valley celebrated their students. Communities stepped up and supported our high school graduates with drive-ins, parades, lawn signs, etc. This meant a lot to the students and brought a sense of community pride to each of the participating towns. I think that several of these will become new traditions at many of our schools.


11th and 12th Grade, English

– Holly Spinelli –

Monroe-Woodbury High School, Monroe-Woodbury Central School District
Years teaching: 14

Nomination:
Holly is dedicated to her students. She’s always looking to learn new things and teaches me new things every day. She is the best friend and colleague anyone could ask for — constantly lifting others up, engaging her students, and showing genuine care for them and the world around her. She greets every single student by name, in-person or on Google Meet, every single class period. She has gotten me through some of my toughest moments this year and I couldn’t survive at school without her. —Colleague

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
My 2020-21 teaching experience affirmed my instincts to educate with compassion while interrupting the status quo. This experience has strengthened my inclination to follow the students’ lead, because amplifying students’ experiences and voices, especially those from historically marginalized groups, cultivates rich, authentic learning experiences that students crave and deserve. 


11th and 12th Grade, Math

– Kathryn Stewart –

New Paltz Central High School, New Paltz Central School District
Years teaching: 23

Nomination:
Ms. Stewart has been there and supported several of my grandchildren, providing understanding and a peaceful place in a busy high school day. “A real person!” my granddaughter announced.
Grandparent of students

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
In early April 2020, I saw a student out on a walk. ‘Ms. Stewart! she said. ‘The whole thing about flattening the curve! The governor is looking for an inflection point! It’s what we were just learning in calculus! When my students see relevance in what they learn in my classroom out in the world, that makes my day! …We do versions of ‘the function dance as part of most lessons, even when we’re each on a computer screen, but a highlight of 2020 was when we could do the function dance together again in the classroom! We were all smiling behind our masks!


11th and 12th Grade, English and Math

– Bill Dunham –

English Chair, Asst. Director of Studies, Trinity-Pawling School, Pawling
Years Teaching: 36

Nomination:
Bill has gone above and beyond to teach as well as mentor many students. He also coaches wrestling and golf, and, in the past, soccer. I am truly grateful for his mentorship of all three of my boys. His teaching ability, work ethic, and mentorship have been invaluable. I am so grateful for the time he has invested, not only in my children, but in all the children he teaches.
Parent of students


– Our Lady of Lourdes High School, Poughkeepsie –

– Priscilla Gateson –

10th–12th Grade AP Calculus AB & Algebra II
Years teaching: 6

Nomination:
When Lourdes was working on its reopening plan this past summer, Ms. Gateson was a clear choice to include on the Academic Continuity Operations Committee that Lourdes created to design that plan. This committee was responsible for developing the details of the hybrid learning plan… This transition is essential to the success of the remote math student. Her ability to manage multiple responsibilities was truly tested last spring. In addition to working remotely, she also is a mom to three young daughters below the ages of 4.
—Co-worker

– Lauren Katz –

11th Grade, English
Years teaching: 13

Nomination:
Lauren Katz believes that English is at the core of our ability to communicate with one another. She believes that developing communication skills in all areas of writing, reading, and speaking better prepares students for the challenges they face during their high school experience and beyond. …This past summer, Mrs. Katz served as a member of the Academic Continuity Operations Committee at Lourdes and invested countless hours designing the plan for reopening. …Mrs. Katz’s dedication to her students remains apparent each and every day. She is truly invested in their success.
Co-worker

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
Teaching in 2020–21 has been a strong reminder that education should focus on the whole child, not just a specific academic area. My students’ desires to keep learning in spite of the uncertainties they are facing has inspired me to keep reinventing my practices and strategies to meet my students’ needs and interests.

– Kristen Gehlhoff –

9th–12th Grade Spanish
Years teaching: 17

Nomination:
Mrs. Gehlhoff’s teaching experience includes 15 years of teaching Spanish in both public and private schools, as well as teaching English as a Second Language at SUNY Orange. Under her leadership, the Spanish Club’s membership has increased by over 50 percent. The club is completely student-run, and under her guidance, the club members enjoy a wealth of extracurricular activities. Even during the pandemic, this is one of the few clubs that is continuing to operate virtually.
—Co-worker

– John Herles  –

9th Grade Biology & College Biology; Biology & Science, Department Chairperson
Years teaching: 13

Nomination:
Several years ago, in collaboration with science department faculty and an administrator, he secured a STEM grant that allowed the school to purchase a Hydroponics Center that is shared amongst all biology classes. According to Mr. Herles, the main objective…was to grow plants and different genetic crosses. It also provides students, especially visual learning students, a better understanding of these processes and genetics as a whole. Engaging in hands-on hydroponic experiments has allowed students to experience ownership of their education by escaping from their textbooks and learning valuable skills like collaboration.
—Co-worker

– Frank Keenan –

9th–12th Grade Math
Years teaching: 6

Nomination:
After a significant career at IBM, Frank Keenan made a career change and entered the teaching profession. His composed teaching style allows him to reach students on all levels, and his flexibility has emerged as one of his strong suits. A true supporter of the students outside the classroom, Mr. Keenan moderates the Future Entrepreneurs Club, the Warrior Athletics News Club, and the Bowling Club, and is often found at all sporting events supporting the Lourdes student athletes.
—Co-worker

– Sebastian Rutigliano –

9th–12th Grade Science
Years teaching: 23

Nomination:
As one of the most experienced classroom teachers in the Lourdes building, Mr. Rutigliano transformed his teaching to fit the mold of hybrid learning. He was also instrumental in assisting with the training of other teachers in new programs and helped troubleshoot technology issues for his colleagues. He was elected as Wappingers Central School District School Board Trustee, where he served for a three-year term. Outside of the classroom, Mr. Rutigliano takes the time to moderate the Our Lady of Lourdes Chess Club.
—Co-worker


12th Grade, AP European History

Photo by Tom Kates

– David Coratti –

Director of Studies and Associate Headmaster, Trinity-Pawling School, Pawling
Years teaching: 43

Nomination:
Dave Coratti has made life-changing impacts on the lives of hundreds of students over the years, as a classroom teacher as well as a varsity football and varsity wrestling coach. He is a master teacher, one who has expertise in the subject matter he teaches, but also expertise in how to engage students in a love of learning. He is thoroughly dedicated to the learning of his students, often meeting them for extra study sessions after school and on weekends. He has also been a model and a mentor for younger teachers during his 40-year career. For over 20 years, he has been a reader and a table leader’ for the AP European History Exam. Dave has not only positively impacted the lives of the students whom he has taught, but the lives of educators at this school and around the country.
Co-worker

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
The biggest learning experience has been the importance of resilience and adaptability on the part of both teachers and students. As a teacher, it has been important to use different teaching styles to make sure all students could grasp the lessons. This happens in normal years, but it has been much more important to understand in 2020-21 as some students have challenges with remote learning while others are able to adapt much more easily. Keeping the remote students engaged is the biggest challenge. …I have found that the more relevant to today the issues discussed are, the more engaged the students have been. The best example in AP European History was paralleling the Black Death, the Spanish Flu, and the COVID-19 virus.


Technology Integration

Photo by Kenneth Gabriel

– Andrew Nikola & Daniel Roberto –

Wappingers Central School District, Hopewell Junction
Years teaching: 14 (Nikola) ; 17 (Roberto)

Nomination:
Dan and Andrew have worked tirelessly since the beginning, helping teachers and students alike adapt to online instruction. Without their assistance our district would have not been nearly as successful with these transitions. They have even taken time to assist colleagues in other districts who find themselves struggling and need guidance. Dan and Andrew are vital assets to our district and need to be recognized for their hard work.
Co-worker

On Teaching During the Pandemic:
The pandemic demonstrated how significant the interconnectedness of schools and families is and how it is a collective effort. Parents, teachers, school and district administrators, school support staff, community members, and students have had to depend on each other and work together. This epitomizes the African proverb ‘“It takes a village to raise a child.”
—Andrew Nikola

The highlight of the 2020 school year was having the opportunity to work with teachers to redesign the learning environment to include more student choice, creativity, and collaboration. …I was able to see the resiliency of students and teachers and their ability to respond to challenges through collaboration and clearly defined goals. I learned that you have to empower students to be creators and not consumers.
—Daniel Roberto


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