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These teachers are truly the “apples of our eyes.”

After over 11,000 nominations, hundreds of interviews, several weeks of research, and hours of internal debates and classroom observations, the DOE announced the recipients of the 2021 Big Apple Awards last month. This year, 20 educators across the City were recognized for their outstanding work in the classroom, representing a range of backgrounds, grade levels, and subject areas. All 20 recipients were surprised with the news of their awards last month by Chancellor Meisha Porter or other DOE senior leaders who either appeared in-person or virtually to celebrate and honor the work these outstanding educators performed throughout our pandemic-filled school year.

“I am so proud to call the teachers of New York City my ‘colleagues.’ They met the challenges of this pandemic with creativity, perseverance, and humanity—serving our young people remotely and in-person,” said Chancellor Porter regarding this year’s Big Apple Award recipients. “This year’s Big Apple Award winners represent everything great about our educators and the incredible diversity of experience and backgrounds they bring in our schools. I look forward to working with them on the Chancellor’s Teacher Advisory Council over the next year.”

Banner for the 2021 Big Apple Awards that reads, "Congratulations 2021 Big Apple Award Recipients!"

Next school year, all 20 recipients will serve as Big Apple Fellows and have the opportunity to develop their leadership skills and expertise in the classroom through leadership development sessions and their involvement in the Chancellor’s Teacher Advisory Council.

Read on to learn more about this year’s Big Apple Award recipients, and join us as we congratulate each of these outstanding educators for their work inside and outside the classroom!

NYC’s 2021 Big Apple Award Recipients

Ivelisse Ramos Brannon

English Language Arts & AP Language and Composition
Central Park East High School, Manhattan

2021 Big Apple Award Recipient, Ivelisse Ramos BrannonA former student of NYC public schools, Ivelisse Ramos Brannon became a DOE teacher to serve diverse and dynamic young people in the system that nurtured her. As a Master Teacher, she leads through example, pairing a deep commitment to student success with a passion for lifelong learning and collaboration. She is a leader for her colleagues, modeling professional risk-taking and innovation, leveraging technology in instruction and assessment. Ivelisse has long supported colleagues in learning and growing alongside her, but it was during the shift to remote learning that she showed how invaluable she truly is.

Learn more about Ivelisse’s work on our Big Apple Awards page.

Jonathan Schulman

Fourth Grade Civics and Sustainability/English Language Arts and Debate
P.S. 110 – The Monitor School, Brooklyn

Portrait photo of BAA 2021 winner, Jonathan SchulmanJonathan Schulman is the type of teacher who believes he is learning as much, if not more, from his students as they are learning from him. In the shift to remote learning, Jonathan worked hard to provide his students with engaging materials, high-interest videos, and a number of digital tools. As students transitioned back to in-person learning, he was committed to offering the same high-quality instruction without skipping a beat. He made it a priority to listen to his students, tapping into their academic and social-emotional needs. Through his enthusiasm and positive spirit, Jonathan has developed a strong rapport with his students, always going the extra mile to provide them with authentic learning experiences.

Learn more about Jonathan’s work on our Big Apple Awards page.

Melisande Bolano

Elementary, Dual Language
P.S. 76 – William Hallet School, Queens

Portrait photo of BAA 2021 winner, Mel BolanoMelisande Bolano beings every school year by teaching her students that they are family and the classroom is home. She makes great effort to get to know her students on a personal level and help them to do the same with each other. Mel takse this learning to the next level by using her knowledge to create targeted lessons and fill the classroom with high-interest books and materials. Students learn early that they must take an active role in their learning, which Mel prioritizes by having students apply for classroom jobs and participate in decision-making processes. From the very start of the school year, she shows her students that their voices matter and have impact. According to her principal, “Mel consistently goes above and beyond to ensure her students have every opportunity to be successful; for example, in an effort to accomodate students during remote learning, she sought out and scheduled flexible times to meet with her students as a class and tailored meetings for strategic small groups of kids.”

Learn more about Mel on the Big Apple Awards page.

Virginia Ford

Special Education
Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science, The Bronx

Virginia FordPortrait of BAA 2021 winner, Virginia Ford is a lifelong learning, constantly pushing herself to adapt and do better. She has high expectations for herself and for her students, something that is reflected in her classroom. She believes in leading by example and demonstrates this by going beyond expectations for her students and colleagues. Virginia is a champion for Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education (CR-SE), understanding intimately that in order to implement and follow through with CR-SE practices, one must start by knowing one’s students well, as well as the multiple cultures they embody. Her principal shares that “Virginia’s thinking around instructional practice and curriculum is deeply grounded in culturally responsive education—she fundamentally believes that school curriculum should not only reflect the lived experiences of young people, but also be a vehicle for student liberation through storytelling and the honoring of student voice.”

More about Virginia can be found on our official Big Apple Awards page.

Sasha Roopchand

Physical Education & Health Education
The Brooklyn Green School, Brooklyn

BAA 2021 winner, Sasha RoopchandSasha Roopchand is determined to ensure that Physical Education and Health classes are valued as much as any core subject. She is dedicated to providing all students with access to quality Health and Physical Education, always offering multiple means of accessing information with a strong focus on literacy instruction and experiential learning. Her principal shares that, “Sasha is like no other physical education teacher I have ever met. She works diligently to change the narrative that physical education teachers are focused solely on physical education. She is a teacher of math and literacy, a leader in social emotional learning, instructional-minded, and scholarly.”

Learn more about Sasha on our webpage.

Big Apple Award winner, Sasha Roopchand (middle) standing with Chancellor Meisha Porter (right).

Chancellor Meisha Porter (right) surprised the Brooklyn Green School’s Sasha Roopchand (middle) with the news about her 2021 Big Apple Award in-person.

Azucena Quintuna

Elementary ENL/Bilingual Education Teacher
P.S. 108 – Sal Abbracciamento, Brooklyn

Portrait photo of BAA 2021 winner, Azucena QuintunaAzucena Quintuna is passionate about teaching multilingual learners. A lifelong learning, she has recently taken to learning Mandarin so that she can better support future students and families. Supporting students and families has always been a priority for Azucena, from volunteering to stay afterschool to provide Response to Intervention (RTI) services to struggling students, to leading weekly parent workshops. This commitment was even more evident during the pandemic when she made it clear that she would not rest until all of her students had access to daily, grade-level instruction. She collaborated with her colleagues after school hours to prepare videos in Spanish and English to support teachers, parents, and students who were struggling to adapt to virtual learning. Taking it a step further, she hosted workshops for parents of multilingual learners twice a month to provide timely support and resources.

See more of Azucena’s bio on the Big Apple Awards page.

Krystal Chong

Eighth Grade Mathematics & Algebra I
Madiba Prep Middle School, Brooklyn

Portrait of BAA 2021 winner, Krystal ChongIn Krystal Chong’s classroom, students are center stage. She offers her scholars a safe space where they can be themselves, nurture their curiosity, and feel secure enough to explore and discuss new content freely. When designing instruction and establishing a rapport with scholars, Krystal always takes a culturally responsive approach. She shares that, “this approach has paved the way for my scholars to attain deeper understanding of content and created opportunities for them to collaborate and rely upon each other as thought partners, allowing me to take on a facilitator role while learning occurs organically.”

Check out the rest of Krystal’s bio on our Big Apple Awards webpage.

Catherine Blades

J.H.S. 383 – Philippa Schuyler, Brooklyn

Portrait of BAA 2021 winner, Catherine BladesCatherine Blades became a Theater teacher because she believes in the power of stories to teach and the power of empathy to break barriers and build bridges. She prioritizes social-emotional learning and relationships in her classroom. She shares that, ” relationships are the foundation of trust and communication, which are prerequisites of creativitiy and expression.” Her students learsn to trust each other enough to experiment in front of each other and take risks, unafraid of looking foolish–not an easy task for middle school students! It is through this that they gain incredible self-confidence and communication skills. Catherine’s students have had exciting opportunities to flex these new skills. For the last four years, she has led the Digital Theater Project (DTP), a collaboration between the DOE’s Office of Arts and Special Projects and C&T Theater Company in the UK. Through this, her students have had the opportunity to present their original work at Carnegie Hall, on YouTube, and via Zoom to classrooms on multiple continents.

See more about Catherine’s outstanding work with her students on our BAA webpage.

Jamala Roper

Fifth Grade Literacy
P.S. 179, The Bronx

Portrait of BAA 2021 winner, Jamala RoperJamala Roper is passionate about empowering her students. In her classroom, the students faciliate teaching and learning, serving as co-teachers. In this role, students are provided the opportunity to co-create lesson plans, giving them a safe space to take risks. She shares that, “I come to work every day with the goal of impacting young minds. With students in the ‘co-teacher’ role, I gradually release my guidance and empower them to take control. This helps them to understand not just WHAT they learn, but WHY and HOW they learn.” Indeed, Jamala’s students are doing remarkable things—in her classroom, you will find students engaging in research-based instruction that provides them with the confidence and skills needed to succeed. Her principal shares that, “Jamala encourages her students to always be and try their best. She challenges each student to be better than their ‘last assignment.'”

See how Jamala adjusted her teaching style throughout the pandemic and more on our official Big Apple Awards page.

Kim Wojcieszek

Dance and Arts Education Liaison
P.S. 100 – The Coney Island School, Brooklyn

Portrait of BAA 2021 winner, Kim WojcieszekKim Wojcieszek believes in her students, and it shows. She became a DOE teacher because she wanted to share her love of dance with her students, particularly those who otherwise may not have been exposed to, or had the opportunity to participate in, the arts. Her classroom is alive with excitement and curiosity, a places where students feel comfortable being vulnerable and taking risks. Her superintendent shares that, “Kim provides her students with leadership opportunities in the classroom. She allows them to lead the warmup and provide warm and cool feedback to each other throughout the lesson, setting high expectations that they rise to meet.” Kim’s students thrive in this environment. She shares that, “my students are open and willing to explore all genres and styles of Dance. They are fearless… not afraid to experience the unknown.”

See how Kim invites families into the classroom and more on our official Big Apple Awards webpage.

Charan Morris

English Language Arts
Vanguard High School, Manhattan

Portrait of BAA 2021 winner, Charan MorrisAs a young person of color, Charan Morris often felt underestimated—something she never wants her students to feel. She facilitates a learning environment in which students have the opportunity to explore their interests and engage in high-level academic discussions, where teaching each other is prioritized. Charan creates a space where students can explore thoughts, ideas, and their identities with peers and make connections between who they were, who they are, and who they want to be. Her principal shares that, “Charan is the most gifted teacher I have observed in 25 years of coaching and supervising teachers. She develops readers, writers, thinkers, and citizens; she collaborates with youth and adults to improve the school environment for everyone. Her vision and passion embody the very best of our profession.”

More about Charan’s work at Vanguard High School can be found on our Big Apple Awards page.

Michele Nelson

Early Childhood, Infants and Toddlers, and LYFE Program
Telecommunications High School, Brooklyn

Portrait of BAA 2021 winner, Michele NelsonMichele Nelson knows that her work doesn’t stop in the classroom. As an early childhood educator in District 79’s LYFE Program (Living for the Young Family through Education) for the past 20 years, she’s worked hard to develop learning experiences for each child that are highly individualized. To do this, she prioritizes relationships with parents and families, ensuring that student parents serve as co-teachers in their children’s learning. Her principal shares that, “Michele considers the unique circumstances each family has experienced, or may be experiencing, along with their family’s culture, to inform the learning experiences she plans for children.”

Learn more about Michele’s contributions to the LYFE program over the past year in our official Big Apple Awards bio page.

Jennifer Schecter

Instrumental Music
M.S. 158 – Marie Curie, Queens

Portrait of BAA 2021 winner, Jennifer SchecterJennifer Schecter leads by example, modeling what it means to be a lifelong learner and how to face challenges with courage and determination. Year after year, she evidences her deep, longstanding commitment to students and colleagues and to excellence in music education. Her transcendent journey into the world of music began as a student in NYC schools. She shares that, “the music education I received drastically altered the course of my life. I chose to teach in NYC so that I could provide similar opportunities to children in the city I have always called home.” And provide she has—Jennifer created a District 26 music professional learning community in order to share effective practices and resources with colleagues, and, prior to the pandemic, created an opportunity for 300+ students from across the district to perform in a music festival.

Learn more about Jennifer’s work on our official Big Apple Awards page.

Alanna O’Donnell

Special Education
P.S. K721 – Brooklyn Occupational Training Center, Brooklyn

Portrait of BAA 2021 winner, Alanna O'DonnellComing from a family of public servants, it is no surprise that Alanna O’Donnell has dedicated her life to her students. In her own words, she became a NYC teacher because “my parents instilled in me a devotion to lifelong learning and improving the lives of others.” Teaching 14-21 year-old students with autism in a fully remote environment, Alanna stops at nothing to ensure that all students have access to rigorous community-based academic experiences, hands-on training in skills to support future employment and independent living, and opportunities to celebrate their success such as donation-funded proms and graduation receptions. She has found new and inventive ways to keep her students engaged and invested in their education. Her principal shares that, “she has been incredibly resourceful and found ways to collaborate with organizations and community resources to bring her academic and activities for daily living (ADL) lessons to life in the homes of her students with autism.”

Learn more about Alanna’s work at P.S. K721 on our Big Apple Awards page.

Kristen Fusaro-Pizzo

English Language Arts
Staten Island Technical High School, Staten Island

Portrait of BAA 2021 winner, Kristen Fusaro-PizzoTeaching in the same high school that enriched and empowered her as a student, Kristen Fusaro-Pizzo considers her school a second home and her school community a second family. She is a great support to colleagues, constantly seeking opportunities to conduct action research, collaborating on developing a more challenging curriculum for students, and frequently facilitating professional development sessions. Her principal shares, “Kristen’s talent, determination and hard work have resulted in her colleagues looking to her as an innovator in the classroom, which has ultimately led to her current role as one of our Peer Collaborative Teachers, providing 1:1 and small group daily professional development to our faculty and staff around best practices in pedagogy and Technology Education.” During this past year, she collaborated with colleagues to create a Peer Professional Development & Support Page to help navigate support around professional development, educational technology, distance learning, and instructional shifts.

Check out how Kristen keeps students engaged by reading more of her bio.

BAA 2021 winner, Jonathan Schulman (center), holding a sign that says, "Big Apple Award," while standing in a classroom surrounded by his students and the Chancellor of the DOE

P.S. 110’s Jonathan Schulman (center) was surprised with the news of his 2021 Big Apple Award while teaching his class.

Meghan Brady

Elementary School
P.S. 153–Helen Keller, The Bronx

Portrait of BAA 2021 winner, Meghan BradyMeghan Brady believes that, “in order for my students to feel valued and comfortable taking risks, I need to cultivate a positive, inclusive learning environment with high expectations for all.” Her passion and zest for learning is reflected in the warm, nurturing, and respectful classroom culture she has created in her classroom. Meghan empowers her students to be agents of change, embedding the philosophies of perseverance and resilience into lessons and daily activities. She teaches her students that they have the power to make a difference. One way that she does this is through the creation of classroom jobs that students must apply to—they even have to engage in a video interview! Meghan prioritizes a CR-SE approach in her classroom, where all students find themselves represented and reflected and all cultures are affirmed, valued, and used as a vehicle for learning. This is particularly evident in the text selections and revisions made to units of study.

Learn more about Meghan’s work in the classroom on our official Big Apple Awards page.

Michael Gentils

P.S. 288–The Shirley Tanyhill, Brooklyn

Portrait of BAA 2021 winner, Michael GentilsMichael Gentils teaches his students that even wrong answers can be brilliant. This approach helps his students embrace the deep thinking that must happen in order for them to have success in his classroom. In fact, he has developed his own problem-solving mindset called OVPJ. Through this, students explore mathematical big ideas at an individualized pace by Organizing their ideas, Visualizing their goals, Persevering through adversity, and Justifying their actions. He shares that, “students come to develop a growth mindset about their own intelligence by understanding that being curious, setting goals, being creative, and communicating their ideas are ways to be smart.”

See how Michael uses extracurricular activities to improve his impact in the classroom on our Big Apple Awards webpage.

Frankelly Fernandez

AP World History, Global Studies
New Visions Charter High School for Advanced Math and Science II, The Bronx

Portrait of BAA 2021 winner, Frankelly FernandezFrankelly Fernandez believes that the secret to his teaching success is his ability to be his true, authentic self with students. In doing this, he creates an opening for his students to do the same. He takes it upon himself to learn who his students are as individuals so that he can engage each of them on a personal basis. These methods have been especially useful this past year when so many students required additional support. Frankelly volunteered to take on a caseload of students, some of whom he did not teach, to connect with weekly in an effort to keep them active in school while engaged in fully remote learning. Working to build a stronger virtual community, he also hosted game nights and other virtual events. Frankelly’s methods were so successful that he was tasked with leading professional development sessions on student engagement, culturally responsive teaching, and social-emotional learning.

See more of Frankelly’s official bio on our Big Apple Awards page.

Deborah Rich

Visual Arts
P.S. 161—Arthur Ashe School, Queens

Portrait of BAA 2021 winner, Deborah RichDeborah Rich believes she learns as much from her students as they learn from her. She approaches each student with respect and uses cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and frames of reference, along with her vast understanding of diverse students’ learning styles, to make learning relevant and effective for them. Debbie teaches her students that it is okay to make mistakes, because the learning that comes from those mistakes is truly valuable. This past year, Debbie had to take on a new role as Pre-K remote teacher. Her principal shares that, “she displayed extreme professionalism and commitment, creating and modifying lesson plans and developing digital resources for students and families.” She also facilitates an after-school theater, music, and literacy residency. Students create musicals from literature and put on a final production for the community.

Learn more about Debbie’s collaborations with teachers, colleagues, and families on our Big Apple Awards page.

Sonia Hurdle

I.S. 392, Brooklyn

Portrait of BAA 2021 winner, Sonia Hurdle“Education is about improving the lives of others and leaving your community and world better than you found it,” says Sonia Hurdle. She has built her career on this principle, taking on new opportunities at every turn. Sonia has been a trailblazer in remote teaching and learning, taking risks and experimenting with various platforms. She goes above and beyond to lead by example and be a source of connection and collaboration in her school community. She has facilitated several professional development sessions for her colleagues and served as a technology consultant for the administrative team, providing valuable feedback about which digital platforms to purchase. Her principal shares that, “Sonia has extended herself beyond expectations to ensure that her colleagues can engage students virtually. Her leadership, reflective practice, and commitment to our scholars has greatly impacted the school community.”

Learn how Sonia is respected by her students and their families on our official Big Apple Awards page.

On behalf of the Department of Education, we thank all of our Big Apple Award recipients for their outstanding work in our classrooms day after day, and we wish all of our hardworking teachers a restful summer!

Official blog for the NYC Department of Education, home of a million students across 1,800+ schools

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