Five educators working in city public schools were honored by the FLAG Award for Teaching Excellence, winning prizes of $25,000 for themselves and $10,000 for their schools.
The FLAG Awards, established two years ago, celebrate Teachers who use creativity to inspire students. An independent panel that included State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa selected the five grand-prize winners—one from each borough—from among nearly 1,000 nominees.
“Teachers, students, administrators and families are completing a school year unlike anything we have ever experienced before, and it is important that we take the time to honor what has been accomplished. I am thrilled at this opportunity to recognize and celebrate our inspirational Teachers,” Ms. Rosa said.
Special Education Teacher Andrew Chiappetta, who teaches at P.S. 146 in Brooklyn, won for building a virtual classroom for his students during the shift to virtual learning in the spring of 2020. Penelope Smetters-Jacono was honored for two decades of dedication towards Celia Cruz Bronx High School’s band, which she established.
English Language Arts Cheryl Rizzo received the FLAG Award for literally transforming her classroom at P.S. 232 in Queens—into a coffeehouse, and even a yoga studio—to enhance the texts being taught. Staten Island Science Teacher Patricia Lockhart was honored for establishing a soap-box-derby program at her school, P.S. 57, which has since expanded to a citywide competition.
Dana Monteiro, who has taught for nearly 20 years at Manhattan’s Frederick Douglas Academy, was honored for transforming his school’s band department into a successful samba program. It was a change that came out of necessity after class sizes had ballooned.
“The traditional band wasn’t working because of the large class sizes,” he said during a phone interview. “You can’t really teach the flute or the clarinet when you have 50 students in front of you.”
A vacation to Brazil sparked the idea to bring samba music back to his school: during his trip, he saw a 250-person band perform samba together.
Samba performances benefited from “strength in numbers,” he noted. The large class sizes that were an obstacle in a traditional band, “finding samba, it turned into a positive,” Mr. Monteiro said.
A nonprofit he founded, “Life with Drums,” has brought the samba program to nearly a dozen schools.
Mr. Monteiro said he was surprised when he found out he’d won the FLAG Award—not just because of his victory, but because he was told during a performance with his students on Good Morning America.
He hoped that the $10,000 prize going to the school’s music program would be used to improve the department’s recording studio.
“It’s a good space but it was built in 2008. The equipment is ancient,” he said. “This would be an opportunity to make it current.”
In addition to the grand prize winners, 10 finalists received $10,000, while their schools received $2,000. Twenty semi-finalists won $500 and $500 for their schools.
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