The Big Apple Awards is a citywide recognition program open to all full-time teachers in New York City public schools. Twelve award recipients, along with more than 100 finalists and semi-finalists, were honored in a ceremony at Gracie Mansion.
The winners of the second (2nd) annual Big Apple Awards: Recognizing Teacher Excellence in New York City, which celebrate the incredible and life-changing work of public school teachers in New York City.
“Teachers are the heart and soul of all our schools, and these awards recognize the transformational impact they have on our students and families every single day,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.
- Phyllis Berk Pre-Kindergarten teacher, P.S. 188 Kingsbury (26Q188) Phyllis Berk is a passionate advocate for pre-kindergarten because, as she says, “this is where it all starts.” From exploring the type of cloud that will hold the most water to using a Vaseline-covered leaf to make predictions (along with a game of telephone), Phyllis mixes creativity and rigor to create a classroom environment where each child is valued and challenged. She also helps her students see beyond their classroom by engaging in a pen pal program with students in Botswana. (Her students have corresponded with pictures and letters, and led a fundraising drive for a new library). As an active UFT delegate, Phyllis facilitates dialogue between faculty and school leadership, leading to solutions that support the entire school community.
- Margaret Boyd 7th grade Math teacher, New York City Lab Middle School for Collaborative Studies (02M312) Margaret Boyd “is passionate about math, and her love of teaching comes across in lessons which make learning math fun,” a parent of a student in her class writes. Her classroom exudes joy; students recently passionately debated which polygons would have the greatest area (no rulers allowed!). Margaret also provides opportunities for her students to demonstrate their expertise as “mathletes” in the Continental Math League, the AMC8, and the New York Math League. In addition to her responsibilities as the math chair, Margaret is committed to providing a safe space for all students to learn, including by serving as a school-wide dean and helping craft the school’s anti-bullying policy.
- Ramil Buenaventura 7th and 8th grade Math teacher, Renaissance Charter School (84Q705) Ramil Buenaventura moved to New York after 13 years as a school teacher and administrator in the Philippines. With ten years under his belt working here, his classroom provides exceptional examples of integrating mathematical practices and common core standards into math lessons. Ramil uses project-based learning, "pi" challenges, and student-created videos to help his class achieve. And he continues to maintain a close relationship with his country of origin: After Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines last fall, he coordinated a School Relief Drive for victims with his advisory class. All of his efforts, Ramil says, are worth it for the success he sees in his students: “This is the essence of why I am a teacher. As I see these gains and successes, they challenge me to gain more so I can give more.”
- Nekesha Bynum 3rd grade teacher, P.S. 310 (20K310) “In this class, one of the important lessons we learn every day is the importance of sharing,” explains one of Nekesha Bynum’s students. Indeed, excitement was abounding on a recent morning when students were able to mix and mingle to Pharrell’s “Happy” and then asked to freeze to share a new learning with a partner. Nekesha’s enthusiasm and expertise has led to great gains for her students, with 86% of her students advancing more than four reading levels during each of the last four years. She says her nine years in the classroom has led to her finding additional ways to support the learning of her colleagues; Nekesha serves as a member of the Core Instructional Team, a mentor teacher, and an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College.
- Doreen Donnelly 3rd grade teacher, TAG Young Scholars (04M012) Colleagues describe Doreen Donnelly’s classroom as “a mecca for teacher training.” She invites her students to make their thinking visible, often through a shared text. (A recent class involved her third-graders looking at figurative text in Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred” and then creating their own poems). In addition to this shared inquiry approach, Doreen has leveraged her previous experience managing a media company to collaborate with a non-profit theatre troupe, “The Story Pirates,” to encourage more creative writing at her school. She also designed and launched a morning and afterschool program for students who needed additional support. Her investment in her school community has paid off: This past year TAG Young Scholars was named one of the top-performing 25 schools in all of New York State.
- Irina Gonzalez 8th grade Social Studies teacher, J.H.S. 123 James M. Kieran (08X123) Her principal says that Irina Gonzalez “works tirelessly on behalf of her students and our entire school community.” Her nominator, a colleague at her school, says she is a “prototype of what an exemplary teacher should be.” In just two years, Irina has contributed in significant ways to her school and her classroom: leading and chairing the Social Studies department, creating new document-based questions to support her English Language Learners, and coaching her students to a third place victory at the National History Day Regional Competition. In addition, Irina continues to pursue her own professional development by representing her school at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, which is committed to the improvement of history education.
- Joseph Pesqueira 11th grade Social Studies teacher, Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics (09X260) One of his students describes Joseph Pesqueira as the “most dedicated person I know…not only is he there as a teacher, but he is a great man overall.” His student-centered classroom is often “flipped,” which means students take notes on pre-recorded online lessons at home and then come to class ready for rich classroom discussion. (To ensure access, Joseph comes to school early every morning to provide computers to students who do not have Internet at home). A recent discussion on which piece of literature was most important in the development of America included a comparison to the Declaration of the Independence as a ‘break-up letter.’ His work has led to great success for his students: His principal noted that an unprecedented 96 % of his U.S. History students passed the Regents exam, with three out of four students passing with an 80 or higher.
- Jessica Russo Special Education teacher (Grades 2-5), P.S. 55 Henry M. Boehm (31R055) “Jessica is one of the most amazing teachers I have ever met,” writes a parent. “She taught my daughter, who has Down syndrome, things that I only dreamed she would be able to do.” Jessica Russo carefully matches the needs of her exceptionally diverse set of learners to an expansive repertoire of instructional strategies. Her positive classroom environment, the real-life connections she makes with her students, and the seamless integration of paraprofessionals in her classroom together provide tremendous support to her students. She is also a resource for colleagues, serving as a mentor, a member of the RTI team, and a model classroom teacher for other special education teachers in the district.
- Jacqueline Stokes Special Education (District 75, students 16-21), The Richard H. Hungerford School (75R721), Stapleton, Staten Island Jacqueline Stokes has been a valued part of the Richard Hungerford School since she asked to be a volunteer there at the age of 11. She kept coming back – first as a sign language paraprofessional for seven years and now as an educator who is known for her passion and her partnerships with her students’ families, including daily phone calls to discuss her students’ successes. Outside of the classroom, Jaqueline continuously seeks opportunities to develop her professional skills to ensure she meets her students’ needs; she attended the TEACH program at Duke University, is ABA trained, and supports new teachers at Bank Street who are working with students with Autism. Her dedication to her students’ success has resulted in the highest scores on alternative-assessments at her school.
- Kathryn Vitale 8th grade English Language Arts teacher, Frederick Douglass Academy VIII Middle School (19K452) On Kathryn Vitale’s classroom door, students see the following message: “Welcome. Take off your shoes and stay a while. This place is HOME. Here, your voice matters. Here, you are part of something special, and it is only special because you are here.” Indeed, Kathryn makes every day special because of her ability to, in the words of her principal, “think of innovative ways to make concepts like ‘central idea’ cool.” Her scholars drive the learning in her classroom and beyond, where they participate in her school’s NYC Urban Debate League team (which Kathryn started), poetry slams at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and writing retreats at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Kathryn also contributes to her larger school community, including revamping her school’s extended day program and creating opportunities for colleagues to teach together and learn from each other’s practices.
- April Yee 1st grade (Bilingual) teacher, P.S. 105 The Blythebourne (20K105) When you walk into April Yee’s classroom, you can feel the positive energy as you see her first graders take on leadership roles – coordinating transitions, giving each other constructive feedback, and even rewarding each other with stickers. As an English Language Learner herself, Chun Yan knows what it takes to support each and every one of her 32 students, many of whom are newcomers to the United States. Her students benefit greatly from her dedication: they have the greatest NYSESLAT growth in her school, with 80% of students exiting her class on or above grade-level. Her commitment to her school extends beyond her classroom, too: April Yan engages in professional learning, writes curriculum maps, and mentors novice teachers. As she describes it: “Teaching is not a job or even a career; it is my life.”
- Laurence Minetti High School Art teacher, Collegiate Institute for Math and Science (11X288) Big Apple Arts Award Recipient “My school is my home,” Laurence Minetti says. Laurence has the unique opportunity to teach at the same high school campus from which he proudly graduated, and to follow the footsteps of his mother, who was also an educator. His nominator describes his classroom as a “laboratory for his colleagues to visit.” Indeed, it’s a place where self-expression is encouraged and where students learn to be “constructive critics.” As a result, his students see art as a way to build self-confidence, motivation, and courage. His students 'masterpieces are exhibited throughout the entire building. Laurence takes on leadership roles outside of the classroom, training staff on the Common Core shifts, helping to launch an AP Art Studio class on the campus, and organizing a $10,000 beautification initiative.
Eligibility: current, full-time NYC Department of Education and charter school teachers who have demonstrated exceptional success in the following areas: Impact of Students’ Learning + Instructional Practices + Professional Contributions.