We have a winner!
Well, 17 of them to be exact. 🙂
The Big Apple Awards are a citywide recognition program that celebrates the incredible work of New York City’s public school teachers. Open to all full-time teachers in City public schools, the Big Apple Awards are made possible, in part, by support from the Fund for Public Schools, Lincoln Center Education, and New York Road Runners. This year, 17 educators were honored with Big Apple Awards, including 15 classroom teachers, one music educator, and a physical education instructor. Since 2013, nearly 13,500 unique DOE teachers have been nominated for a Big Apple Award.
“These teachers go above and beyond every single day to put our students on the pathway to success,” said Mayor de Blasio regarding this year’s winners. “Walk into any of their classrooms, and you will be able to immediately see how they are able to inspire our students to be their best each and every day. New York City is lucky to have some of the best educators anywhere, and I thank all of them for their support of our students and families.”
“When I was in elementary school, I learned guitar from a teacher who made me feel like I was the only student he ever had. Mr. Valenzuela taught me the virtue of lovingly teaching students, and that has stuck with me to this day,” said Chancellor Richard Carranza as he announced this year’s honorees. “The Big Apple Award winners exemplify this love of teaching, and I could not be prouder of the 17 recipients selected this year.”
For the third year in a row, DOE’s senior leaders surprised each of this year’s honorees in person with awards in hand. The surprise visits allowed students and other school staff members to celebrate their teachers’ outstanding work.
Next school year, the 17 recipients will serve as Big Apple Fellows, and they will have the opportunity to meet monthly with one another, becoming leaders and ambassadors for their profession. Recipients will also be invited to serve on the Chancellor’s Teacher Advisory Group, which meets bi-monthly to discuss and affect DOE policies.
This year’s Big Apple Award honorees are:
Nina Berman (Early Childhood Education Teacher, LYFE Program at Pathways to Graduation Downtown Brooklyn)
Ms. Berman began teaching as a paraprofessional in the LYFE program when she was 18 years old. Realizing that she “needed to find innovative ways to connect and engage families,” Ms. Berman employed a new online app that allowed her to interact with parents on a daily basis in order to strengthen the connection between home and school, which has now been adopted in all LYFE classrooms across the City.
Stephanie Flete (Grade 4 Mathematics Teacher, Urban Scholars Community School, Bronx)
Working as a Model Teacher at her school, Stephanie Flete works tirelessly to find innovative ways to provide high quality instruction for her students and to share her best practices with her school community. After one of her students faced a mental health crisis, Ms. Flete began developing social-emotional supports given the high incidence of trauma and emotional issues confronting her students. “No matter how strong your classroom management is or how positive a classroom culture is, there is always room for growth and support,” said Ms. Flete.
Nicole Chu (Middle School English Language Arts Teacher, The Computer School, Manhattan)
Ms. Chu empowers her students by expanding their learning beyond the limits of their classroom. Three years ago, she took the initiative to start an “all school meeting” where a rotating group of 8th grade leaders and faculty facilitators meet monthly to discuss important issues that students wanted to address. Ms. Chu explains: “I only hope the lasting message is as loud and clear as it was for me: Your voice matters. Together with your peers, you make a difference in your community.”
Alberto Toro (Middle School Instrumental Music Teacher, I.S. 007 Elias Bernstein, Staten Island)
Alberto Toro knows the power music education has in shaping his students’ love of the art form and the positive impact it can have on students’ overall learning. As a student, Mr. Toro says his high school band director taught him about culture, history, integrity and character. He’s now teaching those same lessons to his students, whose sense of partnership, confidence and soulfulness increase throughout the year—skills they incorporate into their everyday lives.
Ryuma Tanaka (English as a Second Language (ESL) Teacher, I.S. 145 Joseph Pulitzer, Queens)
As the son of an immigrant single mother, Mr. Tanaka relates his own experience of being bilingual and bi-cultural with those of his immigrant students, many of whom are new to the United States. Mr. Tanaka works to empower his students while appreciating the experiences that may affect them socially, emotionally, and academically, because “when students feel that their teacher cares about their culture and language, then a trusting relationship can be built with them,” he says.
Damen Davis (Grade 6 English and Language Arts Teacher, I.S. 303 Leadership & Community Service, Bronx)
To overcome challenges his students faced outside of the classroom and at home, Mr. Davis began reaching out to school support staff, contacted his students’ former elementary school teachers, their out-of-school coaches, and when appropriate, met with parents. His students began to see him everywhere and they saw the investment and belief he had in them. Trust began to build which in turn led to students taking academic risks, and their efforts were met with significant growth and increased academic successes.
Amie Robinson (Special Education Visual Arts Teacher, P.S. K077, Brooklyn)
Ms. Robinson’s visual arts instruction gives students with diverse learning and communication needs a way to express themselves. As Ms. Robinson explained: “I think it’s really important to have vehicles for students to express themselves and grow as artists.” Ms. Robinson’s students have had their artwork exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, Brooklyn and Queens art museums, Brooklyn Public Library, and the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
Marisol FitzMaurice (Grade 1 Teacher, Concourse Village Elementary School, Bronx)
Ms. FitzMaurice began teaching 15 years ago because she wanted to change the lives of the young students in the Bronx community where she grew up. “I believe that my compassion for young children and enthusiasm for learning creates an attitude that influences my students to want to learn and become critical thinkers.” By involving students in all facets of the learning process, Ms. Fitzmaurice gives students the foundation to take responsibility for their academic successes at an early age.
Jae Lee (High School Korean Language Teacher, Bayside High School, Queens)
Mr. Lee dedicates himself to the celebration of the Korean culture. He has established multiple partnerships with groups like the Korean Consulate and the Korean Education Center, while also creating the Bayside Lunar New York celebration. Mr. Lee also connects his students to experiential learning opportunities through his role as a Work Based Learning Coordinator.
Michelle Jennings (Middle School Science Teacher, Brooklyn Science and Engineering Academy)
As a first generation Haitian-American, Ms. Jennings understands the doors that a good education can open for her students. Her current student population and community are of Caribbean and African-American descent, some of whom are the first in their families to go to school in America. She serves as a mentor teacher, has been selected to be an Urban Advantage Lead Teacher and was recently selected as one of five teachers to win the 2017 “Excellence In Education Award” presented at UN Headquarters during the annual CTAUN conference.
Gregg Kwarta (Grade 5 Teacher, P.S. 232 The Lindenwood School, Queens)
“A teacher’s true success is not measured by how children grow in the classroom but by how you affect their growth outside the classroom and their values and actions.” That philosophy guides Gregg Kwarta’s teaching practices and his dedication to his students. Mr. Kwarta sends welcome postscards to families and monthly newsletters to highlight each student in the class.
Mauricio Gonzalez (Science/Career and Technical Education Marine Biology Teacher,
Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, Manhattan)
Under Mr. Gonzalez’s direction, students are given relevant, real world environmental problems to solve independently and are taught to ask probing questions and research before making decisions. This hands on learning approach is especially engaging as students gain independence and confidence. As a result, Mr. Gonzalez’s students include a winner of the Gates Millennium Scholarship for their work on restoring eel grass to the New York Harbor and multiple research grant recipients.
Ashley Wilson (Kindergarten Teacher, Success Academy Charter School—Harlem 3, Manhattan)
No moment is wasted in Ms. Wilson’s classroom. In the morning meeting, students share about themselves and their lives to help create a supportive community. Ms. Wilson takes opportunities to model positive behaviors such as how to respond when someone is struggling. “By showing my students that I care about who they are inside and outside of the classroom, I am able to develop the trust necessary for students to take academic risks,” she says.
Sandra Fajgier (Pre-Kindergarten Teacher, Pre-K Center at Bishop Ford, Brooklyn)
Ms. Fajgier exemplifies best-teaching practices in early childhood instruction. Her classroom is a model for other pre-kindergarten programs because of the carefully curated materials – every item she makes by hand – used to spark the minds and imaginations of her students. As one parent shared: “She [Ms. Fajgier] is an extremely talented, dedicated teacher with an inspiring classroom that is always fresh with new inquiries and activities.”
Raya Sam (Grade 6 Mathematics ICT teacher, Hamilton Grange Middle School, Manhattan)
Raya Sam came to the United States in the first grade as a refugee from Cambodia, and her experience with a caring teacher who helped her adjust to her new home inspired her to become a teacher. In addition to teaching, and facilitating IEP meetings across the school, Ms. Sam founded and coaches the school’s cheerleading team, and edits their annual yearbook and school newspaper.
Michelle Lee (Grade 5 Dual Language Teacher, P.S. 163 Flushing Heights, Queens)
A challenge Ms. Lee faced as a bilingual teacher in a Mandarin/English dual language program was the need for Chinese language curriculum that was aligned with the English curriculum. Most of the material Ms. Lee found were only appropriate for foreign language instruction, so she set to bridge the gap and wrote her own Chinese dual language literacy curriculum with the DOE’s Office of Periodic Assessment.
Mike Rosario (Grade 7 and 8 Physical Education Teacher, P.S. 279 Captain Manuel Rivera, Jr., Bronx)
Mr. Rosario’s dedication goes beyond the gymnasium and is evident in his commitment to the wellness of his students. Mr. Rosario said that recently he met a mother “who was crying tears of joy because her child was no longer diagnosed as pre-diabetic. She attributed this directly to my class and my work with the student in the fitness club that I lead before and after school.”
Congratulations to this year’s Big Apple Award honorees!
If you would like to honor the City’s great teachers and support the Big Apple Awards for years to come, you can make a donation through the Fund for Public Schools! For more information, check out the Fund’s website.