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New York City is honoring 19 exceptional teachers. Here’s who they are

PHOTO: Courtesy of the Department of Education
Former Chancellor Carmen Fariña presented fifth-grade teacher Keira Dillon with a Big Apple Award.

New York City has named 19 teachers winners of Big Apple Awards, a competitive prize that rewards “exceptional success” in instruction, impact on student learning, and overall contributions to school communities.

The winners were culled from a pool of 7,800 nominees, 1,000 of whom were invited to submit formal applications. The applicants were judged based on essays, classroom observations, recommendations and interviews.

Among the Big Apple winners is a physical education teacher — a first in the program’s five-year history.

“This year’s recipients represent the thousands of incredible educators who go above and beyond to motivate their students, and move their school communities forward,” schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement.

Here are the winners:

Danielle Bocchino (fifth-grade teacher, P.S. 215 Morris H. Weiss, Brooklyn)
Mrs. Bocchino has taught at P.S. 215 for 14 years and holds her students to rigorous standards, rewarding them with “conversation coupons” when they use accountable talk. Mrs. Bocchino stresses the importance of student independence because, she believes, “It is important to let them do the work.” At the beginning of this year, just 17 percent of her students were meeting fifth grade math standards; by mid-year, 86 percent were meeting the standards including 34 percent who were exceeding them.

Corinne Cornibe (high school math teacher, Academy for Young Writers, Brooklyn)
“I want my students to be creators – to design, innovate, and problem-solve their way to a better future,” said Ms. Cornibe. She started a robotics program and later establish an Advanced Placement Computer Science program that have ignited students’ passions and interest in learning. 73 percent of last year’s graduating class took a course in computer science, robotics, or both.

Yocasty Diaz (middle school math teacher, I.S. 219 New Venture School, the Bronx)
Ms. Diaz has worked at I.S. 219 for 16 years and describes her classroom as “a center of investigation, discovery, and risk-taking opportunities.” Ms. Diaz utilizes project-based instruction focusing on meteorological science to expand her students’ horizons by exposing them to professions that they otherwise might not have had access to.

Keira Dillon (fifth-grade gifted & talented teacher, P.S. 163 Alfred E. Smith, Manhattan)
Over her ten years at P.S. 163, Ms. Dillon has exposed students to great works of philosophy and art. Her goal: “to offer enriching academic and social opportunities that mirror this amazing city.” Ms. Dillon believes in building cross-curricular connections and her students conduct a weekly song analysis through a Socratic seminar.

Adriana DiScipio (English as a new language teacher, P.S. 230 Doris L. Cohen, Brooklyn)
Ms. DiScipio is now in her 11th year of working with often newly arrived English Language Learners at P.S. 230. “I perceive my students’ linguistic diversity as a strength and a resource.” Beyond her classroom, Ms. DiScipio serves as a Learning Partners Program Model Teacher, sharing work around language learning and vocabulary development with her school community.

James Harrington (high school art teacher, High School of Art and Design, Manhattan)
In his 11th year teaching at the school he graduated from, Mr. Harrington strives to live up to his own teachers’ legacy as mentors who saw their students as artists. Relating to his students, Mr. Harrington reflects, “I became a teacher to pass on the gift of art to a new generation, just as it was passed on to me.”

Leslie Lehrman (high school English teacher, Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology, the Bronx)
Ms. Lehrman explains that she left her career in magazine publishing to “combine my passion for reading and writing with my love for children.” As a Master Teacher, Ms. Lehrman acts as the department lead, guiding vertical alignment of instructional strategies, and helps to lead a professional learning community, collaborating with colleagues to develop and deliver monthly professional development aligned with schoolwide goals.

Jessica Martell (fifth-grade teacher, Central Park East II, Manhattan)
Ms. Martell works in an ICT setting and became a teacher to combine her love of New York City with her belief that every student is entitled to a quality public education. This year, each of her students has grown at least two reading levels, and Ms. Martell has fulfilled her goal of ensuring “all students see themselves as capable and brilliant readers and writers.”

Nash Matute (Reading recovery teacher, Archer Elementary School, the Bronx)
Ms. Matute has taught in New York City public schools for seven years and serves as a Reading Recovery teacher for a group of first grade students. She is “driven by the never-ending room to grow and develop.” Ms. Matute also serves as an instructional coach for her school’s upper grades and has implemented a schoolwide teacher and peer conferencing system for teachers to assess and build relationships with students.

Katie McArdle (Elementary Autism Teacher, P.S. K231, Brooklyn)
Ms. McArdle has spent the past 14 years teaching New York City students on the autism spectrum. “After college, I stumbled upon a graduate program focusing on students with severe and multiple disabilities, and as soon as I began, I knew I had found my niche.” In her classroom, each students’ unique learning style is respected and nurtured. Mrs. McArdle’s primary focus is on developing her students’ self-awareness, self-control, and self-advocacy.

Faye Michalakos (sixth-grade math teacher, Hellenic Classical Charter School, Brooklyn)
Ms. Michalakos ties all of her instruction to real world examples and experiences for her math students. Understanding the “why” of math is critical to her students’ success, and Ms. Michalakos builds partnerships with parents and families through schoolwide engagement events. In the classroom, she insists upon students using math vocabulary and accountable talk, and prepares them to facilitate their own Socratic seminars and to monitor their own progress by writing themselves “glow and grow” notes.

Carmen I. Morales (TASC preparation teacher, East River Academy, Rikers Island)
Ms. Morales has spent the past 25 years at East River Academy working with incarcerated students. She often “sneaks” hopeful and inspiring messages into their work to keep them engaged, and cultivates a physical learning environment which is uniquely suited to the social emotional needs of students on Rikers Island.

Patrick Murphy (special education teacher, P.S. 199 Maurice A. Fitzgerald, Queens)
Mr. Murphy has inspired students to consider engineering careers after starting a Lego Robotics program. He believes in tapping into his students’ interests and passions to drive instruction, saying, “I became a teacher because I love the art of learning.” Individual student conferences also help him monitor student progress and create monthly goal sheets aligned to rigorous academic standards.

Rose Newman (physical education teacher, P.S. 118 Lorraine Hansberry, Queens)
“My Physical Education class is a place of moving and learning,” said Ms. Newman. She is the first PE teacher to receive a Big Apple Award, and her goal is for students have fun while learning about health-related fitness, skills, and character. She also sets specific goals that can be tracked during the year, and students are expected to spend at least 50 percent of class time engaged in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and complete at least 1,000 steps during each lesson, as measured by the use of pedometers.

Rosario Orengo (middle school social studies teacher, The Urban Assembly Unison School, Brooklyn)
“I wake up every morning excited to do this work,” said Ms. Orengo. For her, the work of being an educator means creating a safe environment, in which her students feel comfortable taking academic risks and sharing their own confusions and misunderstandings. Focusing on conversation and discussion, she uses high-interest readings and integrates connections to current events to motivate her students, and helped introduce restorative practices to the school community.

Elaine Rodriguez (dual language middle school math teacher, M.S. 322, Manhattan)
Ms. Rodriguez said she “practices an open-door-at-all-times policy and welcomes positive thinking and mistakes from students, parents, administrators and visitors.” In her dual language classroom, Ms. Rodriguez models instruction in Spanish for one week and then continues the curriculum in English the following week.

Julia Satt (second-grade special education teacher, P.S. 45 John Tyler, Staten Island)
Ms. Satt has taught at P.S. 45 for ten years in an ICT setting, focused on educating the whole child, responding to each student’s unique behaviors and needs, and using restorative circles to promote equity of voice. A significant portion of Ms. Satt’s students have made two years’ worth of reading, writing, and math progress in just one year.

Diana Shteynberg (Pre-K teacher, Shorefront YM-YWHA, Brooklyn)
Raised in a family of educators, Ms. Shteynberg’s goal is to guide students to be “self-initiating and self-directed learners” and to “grow from dreamers to doers.” Ms. Shteynberg seeks to create a welcoming environment and an atmosphere of trust for every child and family, and builds strong parent partnerships, offering positive and constructive feedback. At the end of last year, every student in Ms. Shteynberg’s class was able to enter Kindergarten without the ESL program due to excelling in language and literacy.

Binh Thai (sixth-grade humanities teacher, University Neighborhood Middle School, Manhattan)
Mr. Thai began his teaching career 17 years ago as a member of the inaugural cohort of the New York City Teaching Fellows. Mr. Thai implements a 360-degree feedback process in his classroom: students receive feedback from each other as well as from their teacher, and Mr. Thai uses an online form to solicit feedback on his instruction directly from students.

teacher diversity

Memphis colleges are training more teachers of color, new study shows

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Shortly after creating its River City Partnership in 2017, The University of Memphis established is creating an urban teacher training track in its College of Education in partnership with Shelby County Schools.

Teaching degree programs at four-year institutions nationwide are disproportionately white, according to new Urban Institute data. But things look different in Memphis, where two local colleges, the University of Memphis and Christian Brothers University, are making strides to ensure their teaching programs reflect the diversity of the schools that house them.

Meanwhile Memphis’ LeMoyne-Owen College, a historically black institution, has a teaching training program whose student body is almost exclusively African-American. The program focuses on preparing  its students to teach in diverse settings.

“Minority-serving institutions,” like historically black colleges and universities, are “doing more than their fair share of preparing diverse teachers,” Constance Lindsay, a researcher at the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. “And then there’s lots of schools in urban settings that are sort of over-representing black and Hispanic students” in their education programs — noting that, in some places, the teaching programs have greater percentages of students of color than the schools as a whole.

The Urban Institute data was released Tuesday.

In Memphis, 68 percent of school-aged children are non-white, and teachers of color make up about 40 percent of the city’s educators. But across Memphis-area colleges, more black students pursue teaching degrees compared to other majors.

According to the study, the percentage of black education majors at the University of Memphis (40 percent) closely resembles the racial makeup of the public, four-year college. Alfred Hall, Assistant Dean of Student Success & Strategic Initiatives at the University of Memphis, said that those numbers are the result of new leadership “embracing the notion of being an urban education institution.”

“We continue to serve a metropolitan area, in which we have suburban and rural partners, and we continue to work to meet their needs,” he said. “But we have been more intentional in the past several years about serving an urban education school district and preparing teachers to have success in those settings.”

The university’s goal is to recruit and prepare teachers to “understand a local context.” Last year, the school established the River City Partnership, a student-teaching program, with Shelby County Schools. That program is centered around understanding concepts of equity and social justice, where teachers-in-training learn about the struggles of urban students as well as the best ways to unleash their potential.

“[We don’t want our teachers to just have] a deficit perspective of feeling sorry for them because they come from certain hardships, but to have an appreciation of the persistence and grit that these students have and how they can maximize those attributes to bring about student success,” he said.

At Christian Brothers University, a private religious college, black students make up 32 percent of the student body. But among students who study education, half are black. A CBU representative was unavailable Tuesday.

The Urban Institute report comes on the heels of an earlier study that found students of color were more likely to attend alternative licensing programs for teachers than to complete teacher training offered at four-year institutions. Some of these non-traditional programs, such as Man Up and Urban Teachers, target students from groups underrepresented among teachers.

But while states like Tennessee have begun to welcome some of these alternative programs, the majority of teachers still take traditional routes.

“I think we have to do a better job of just recruiting students to become interested in teaching across the board, from all racial and ethnic backgrounds,” Hall said. “[We need to help them] see the importance of having an increasingly diverse body of teachers to address an increasingly diverse body of students that have an understanding of certain cultural competencies.”

Cumberland College in Lebanon, Tennessee, is the only other school in the state that has a higher percentage of black students in its education program than it does schoolwide. Black students were underrepresented in 24 of Tennessee’s 27 listed teaching programs outside of Memphis. Here’s how they measured up:

Source: The Urban Institute

The full report allows users to search four-year programs and see how they compare to national trends in two key areas: black and white student representation upon enrolling in an education program, as well as black and white student completion rates. You can access that here.

Other teaching programs in Memphis, including Rhodes College, Southwest Tennessee Community College, and Memphis College of Art, are smaller and were not included in the Urban Institute study as a result.

How I Lead

Meditation and mindfulness: How a Harlem principal solves conflict in her community

Dawn DeCosta, the principal of Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School

Here, in a series we call “How I Lead,” we feature principals and assistant principals who have been recognized for their work. You can see other pieces in the series here.

Dawn DeCosta, Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School’s principal of seven years, never pictured herself leading a school.

Originally a fine arts major and art teacher, she was inspired to be a community leader when she took a summer leadership course at Columbia University’s Teachers College. The program helped her widen her impact to outside the classroom by teaching her how to find personal self awareness and mindfulness.

For the past four years she has taught the students, teachers, and parents in her school’s community how to solve conflict constructively through the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence’s RULER program — a social-emotional learning program that brings together many of the tools that she learned at Columbia. While describing these new practices and techniques, DeCosta reflected on the specific impact they have had on her community.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

What is the Yale RULER program?

It’s more of a process, not a script or curriculum. An approach that has these four anchors: the mood meter, the charter, the meta-moment, and the blueprint. We use the mood meter to describe feelings, because a lot of times we’ll just hear “I feel happy” or “I feel sad.” You want them to be able to better pinpoint how they feel, and the mood meter is a square with these quadrants that are different colors and show how much energy a student has at a given moment and how pleasant they’re feeling. The charter is an agreement to the class. It replaces “don’t hit, don’t kick” with “how do we want to feel, what are we going to do to feel that way, what will we do if we have a conflict.” The meta-moment are six steps on how to deal with a stressful situation, and the blueprint is a plan to serve a longer-term conflict between two people- to solve an ongoing conflict that we need a plan for, that’s not just in the moment. We integrate all four components throughout the day, throughout the week, throughout the year.

What changes did you make to it to make it work for your community, and what are the specific strategies you use?

We do it with teachers, students, staff, and supplement it with a culturally relevant approach. We have 100 percent black and brown children, so this means using culturally relevant texts, since we want students learning about leaders and artists who look like them. We want them to see models of excellence in themselves and see success too in themselves in order to combat some of the negative images they see in the media or even in their neighborhoods. This is a beautiful place but there’s also a lot going on in terms of poverty and violence, which have an impact on their lives, how they feel, how they live, how they see things. We’ve incorporated meditation, mindfulness, brain breaks, yoga, and arts into our curriculum. We’ve put all the different pieces together to tap into what makes kids want to go to school and makes them love to be here. We want to use these in every grade, so that we give students a common language and kids can move from one grade to the next easily. Student ownership is a big piece, because what happens when the teachers aren’t there? Do you know how to use this in less structured environments, at home with your siblings at home?

How do you make sure vulnerable students are getting emotional support and give time for that reflection and self growth but also provide a rigorous education that meets your school’s standards?

The work that we are doing is ensuring that the kids have academic improvement and success. Because they feel cared for and comfortable, ultimately students feel successful, and when you feel successful you will apply yourself more. Right now, learning is rigorous. It’s not what it was 10 years ago. So we ask kids to think very deeply to be critical thinkers. The text that they have to read is more rigorous, ones that require problem solving [and] for kids to think for themselves. And so that by itself is taxing. And that kind of work can be really stressful. A lot of the work we’ve done is around test anxiety. We want kids to know that this is just a piece of information, you need to know where you’re doing well, where you’re struggling so that they can address areas of challenge with a little more positivity. But we see the effects of it in our academic performance.

How have you measured the success of the program?

When I first became principal it wasn’t like we were having emergencies necessarily, but we were putting out a lot of fires. Kids were just coming in with issues, getting into fights, things like that. We also wanted to bring in more of the parents, because there were some that we wanted to be more engaged. We have seen an increase in test scores, but I use personal growth stories as my data–that’s how I know that this works. When I have those success stories, when I see students that really needed it, use it and feel a change, that is the data. We didn’t actually see real, big changes until last year, when we were three years into using this new style of learning. There’s always work to be done, it’s an ongoing thing.

In your own words, what is emotional intelligence and why is it important to have?

To me, it means that you are aware of what you may be feeling at a certain moment and of how your feelings impact interactions with others. It’s about how self aware you are, how are you thinking about what you’re going to say or do before you do it, and about how you show compassion for others who are also thinking and feeling just like you. It’s about how you listen to others, how you see and recognize what others are giving you, and how you support others. We’ve been told that all we can do is control ourselves, and that we’re not responsible for other people. But I think through emotional intelligence, we are responsible for how we make people feel.

In what ways do you help take this learning outside of the classroom?

We send home activities for students to do with their families, for over vacation. It will be like, “check in with your family members on their moods for the week and on how everybody is feeling this week,” or “what was one time when you and your parents had a conflict and what did you do well or not do well.” We keep finding the means to engage the parents at home with it by having them come in and do stress relief workshops. I have students ask, “Can I have a mood meter for my mom? I think it will help her because she feels really stressed.” So that home/school piece is a really important part of what makes everything successful. We’re all supporting the kids, we’re raising them together.

In what other ways do you help the parents learn as well, and what does that look like?

We trained a group of parent leaders in RULER, who helped us train other parents. Parents like hearing from other parents, so we wanted to make sure that it was presented to them as something they could relate to. I think that sometimes as educators we are guilty of using a lot of acronyms and indigestible words when we’re talking to families, and what we’ve decided to do is breaking it down to talking about how do they deal with stress. Kind of how we brought it to the parents is that we brought to the kids strategies on how to deal with stress. We did some yoga with them, breathing techniques, and then we just started talking to them about what kinds of emotion they go through in a day. They talk about getting kids ready, making trains, dealing with family members, and really getting out what they were dealing with as parents–all that stuff that nobody really asked them about before. Honestly, they were the most receptive group. I think talking to each other, in a place where we’re all supporting each other, creates that space that we need.

Describe a specific instance or an anecdote that you think is reflective of the changes that have happened since you have implemented these new practices. How did you see the impact?

A boy came to us in the second grade, and he had been on a safety transfer, which means that he had been in a situation that may not be safe for a child. They’re either in violent conflict with others, or they’re being bullied, or something’s happening where they need to be removed from where they are. At first we had a lot of emotional difficulties and poor relationships with his teachers, and even though he was only six or seven he had been suspended several times. His family had also shut down from the school connection because since they were constantly hearing negative information. The principal basically said “Look, there’s nothing you can do with him. It’s just too much, he’s violent, he bites, it’s just too much.” But he came to the school, and just through engaging him through some of the new practices he was able to self regulate. It impacted his focus and changed his ability to relate to others. The changes didn’t make him perfect or change who he is, but it gave him some tools to be successful and work with others. Once he had love and compassion and felt accepted in our community, all of those behaviors just disappeared. His family became more supportive and trusting and he graduated last year.