Meet the Recipients

Congratulations to our 2015-16 Big Apple Fellows!

The 2015 Big Apple Award recipients were chosen from a pool of more than 4,500 nominations, representing a diversity of grade levels, subject areas, and each of the five New York City boroughs. In addition to continuing their outstanding work in the classroom, these model educators will also serve as Big Apple Fellows during the 2015-16 school year.

Lauren Bakian

4th Grade ELA, Math, and Social Studies teacher, P.S. 110 Florence Nightingale, Lower East Side (01M110)

In Lauren Bakian’s class, the motto is “Take charge of your learning.” This motto permeates Ms. Bakian’s classroom and empowers her students to be active participants in their development. What distinguishes Ms. Bakian from other teachers is her ability to honor and celebrate every child’s strengths while meeting his/her academic and social/emotional needs in an inclusive, exciting, and rigorous setting. Lauren’s leadership extends beyond the four walls; as a Lead Teacher, instructional coach and mentor, author of the K-2 literacy curriculum, and host of the ELA club she helps other teachers in her school excel. She holds classroom celebrations highlighting student work and facilitates ongoing parent meetings to make sure families are included as partners in their children’s education.

Denise Clarke

8th Grade Math teacher, Mott Hall Science and Technology Academy, Concourse Village (09X454)

On Saturday afternoons, you will find Denise Clarke tutoring her students at the Melrose Branch of the public library. Afounding teacher of Mott Hall Science and Technology Academy, Ms. Clarke contributes in numerous ways to her school community by serving as the 8th grade team leader and embracing parents as key partners in her students’ school experience. In Ms. Clarke’s classroom, her students take risks and build on the knowledge of others – making all of them fluent math speakers and writers. Ms. Clarke collaborates with ELA teachers to bring literacy techniques into her math class and build academic math language. As her principal writes, Ms.Clarke “uses her abilities and her opportunities to the maximum potential.”

Rhonda Corin

Pre-Kindergarten teacher, The School in the Gardens, Forest Hills (28Q101)

“When I sat on the carpet with a group of four-year-olds excitedly chatting, listening, and begging for attention at the same time, I knew I had found my audience.” Fifteen years later, Rhonda Corin continues to serve pre-kindergartenstudents and their parents at The School in the Gardens in Queens. She recognizes that children thrive and are most successful when families and educators collaborate as a team. Her integrated approach to learning is evident in the vibrant and beautifully arranged student work, which includes observational drawings of their neighborhood, and the students’ own connections between their drawings and a book the class recently read. In Ms. Corin’s classroom, students become scientists, mathematicians, artists, and writers. Beyond developing creative units that actively engage her young students, Ms. Corin serves as the UFT chapter leader, is on the School Leadership and MOSL Teams, and the Safety Committee. As she shares, “Serving the school community is a central part of being an educator.”

Margaret Diercks-Henfling

Early Childhood Education, LYFE Program on Beach Channel Educational Campus, Far Rockaway, (79Q952)

Margaret Diercks-Henfling has spent her 24-year-career teaching in the Living for the Young Family through Education (LYFE) program, which supports student-parents to stay on track for graduation by providing high-quality early childhood education to their children. As Ms. Diercks-Henfling explains, she became a teacher because she wanted to help children “see the world is a place to discover.” In her unique role on the Beach Channel Educational Campus, she engages three generations – the child, the student-parent, and the parent/guardian of the student-parent. Her classroom lending library reflects this dedication, allowing student-parents to check-out books to read with their children – a critical aspect of early literacy development. Considered a leader throughout the citywide LYFE program, her work goes beyond the classroom: she has mentored, collaborated with community partners to provide nursing services, and helped start a cheerleading team at the high school where her program is housed in.

Joan Fiorillo

6th Grade ELA, Social Studies, and Science ICT teacher, J.H.S. 218 James P. Sinnott Magnet School, East New York (19K218)

Joan Fiorillo is a 33-year veteran of New York City schools. As her principal notes, “When it comes to instruction, Ms. Fiorillo is a master. Her students are highly engaged and they make significant contributions to the class through participation in high-level discussions.” Joan’s innovative thinking helps her establish an environment that exudes a positive energy and a classroom structure that engages and motivates students. Her humble demeanor underscores the numerous contributions Ms. Fiorillo makes to her school community, which include overseeing the school newspaper and yearbook, as well as membership on the School Leadership Team, and curriculum planning and grant writing committees. Her innovative practices and dedication to the school community have helped her build solid relationships with students’ families, some of which span her entire career. She describes her school like a family reunion, with many of her students’ parents telling their children, “You better be good with Ms. Fiorillo, because she was one of the best teachers I ever had.”

Rick Ouimet

12th Grade English teacher, Millennium Art Academy, Castle Hill (08X312)

“I came to the city to teach and that is what I do. I have been offered dean positions; I refused. I have been urged to apply to leadership and administrative programs; I refused. I teach.” Rick Ouimet was inspired to become a teacher after reading Jonathan Kozel’s Savage Inequalities in college and has spent his 16-year career serving students and families in the South Bronx. He loves the challenge of inspiring the diversity of students from encouraging and challenging students as they prepare for the Regents exam and Advanced Placement courses to coaching students on the soccer field. Mr. Ouimet works hard to show his students how college is a viable pathway: helping his students craft and revise their personal statements, writing letters of recommendation, and reaching out to parents to help them understand how transformative and affordable college can be. As his principal shares, “All his students know that Mr. Ouimet truly believes in them and, as a result, they flock to their Pied Piper of English literature, discourse, rhetoric, and hope.”

Shani Perez

Visual Arts (Pre-K - Grade 5) teacher, P.S.51 Elias Howe, Midtown (02M051)

“Our P.S. 51 artists are a daily reminder of why I chose my profession and the gratitude I have for the opportunity to share my love for art through teaching.” In her nine years as a New York City teacher, Shani Perez has inspired and motivated her students, holding high standards for their achievement in the visual arts. Ms. Perez began hercareer studying and working in the fashion industry, but always felt a profound sense of fulfillment when teaching art to children. After studying art education, she realized her dream was to be an art educator and she joined the Elias Howe P.S. 51 community, where she has spent her career integrating arts into the curriculum across disciplines through her collaboration with music, library, and classroom teachers. Beyond her work in the classroom, she serves as the school’s UFT chapter chair, co-chair of the Arts Department, and is a member of the School Leadership Team, Health and Safety, and Website and Technology committees. She also developed an arts benefit program in 2010 called, “P.S. 51 Project Runway.”

Audrey Rabi Whitaker

10th and 11th Grade Earth Science teacher, Academy for Young Writers (19K404)

Audrey Rabi Whitaker began teaching as a New York City Teaching Fellow in 2003 and she is committed to teaching in NYC for the duration of her career. Ms. Whitaker draws on a plethora of pedagogical, assessment, and student engagement strategies to support student achievement. As her principal notes, “Ms. Whitaker brings a progressive approach to science teaching and has mastered planning and teaching through developmentally appropriate, hands-on, inquiry-based science lessons. She is devoted to working with students who have the greatest need for strong communities and good teachers.” Ms. Whitaker wears many hats at the Academy for Young Writers; she serves as the school’s data specialist, mentors new teachers, and serves as the science department chairperson. As a colleague reflects, “A good teacher is someone who is able to play a lot of roles, and play them well. Audrey Rabi is one of the best I have met.”

Melisa Stoller

6th through 8th Grade ESL and ELA, I.S. 528 Bea Fuller Rodgers, Washington Heights (06M528)

A colleague sums up Melisa Stoller’s passion and commitment:“Ms. Stoller wears the hat of model, mentor, facilitator, inspirational speaker, and nurturer with a level of fluidity and authenticity.” She provides her students with a text-rich classroom and clearly established routines, which help her students deeply engage in each lesson and navigate their classroom environment smoothly. During a recent observation, students were so enthusiastic to continue their debate, they pleaded to continue the conversation before moving to their next class. As a teacher of English Language Learners, Ms. Stoller uses her bilingual skills as a resource to support students and create a bridge for parents who do not speak English. She draws on her own experiences as an ELL to understand the challenges her students face and uses her story to connect, inspire, and encourage her students to see their language diversity as an asset. Ms. Stoller demonstrates her deep commitment to the school community and her students’ families through her work developing after school programs for students, offering classes to parents, and collaborating with her school’s TIF (Teacher Incentive Fund) Team as a Peer Instructional Coach.

Jonathan Young

10th through 12th Grade Social Studies, William Cullen Bryant High School, Astoria (30Q445)

“Young people inspire me, and I want to show all children that they have the power to be successful,” Jonathan Young writes. Mr. Young approaches teaching with three key elements in mind: content, life-skills, and integrity. He teaches with a sense of purpose and employs a range of strategies to engage his students. The work pays off; 100% of his students pass the Regents exam and many receive college credit for the Advanced Placement courses he teaches. His investment in his students’ achievement extends beyond his classroom as well; Mr. Young often helps students prepare for job interviews, college applications, and SATs. He also leads the Moot Law Team and serves as the Teacher Director for the Law and Forensics Learning Community, a program he created to help establish law-related internships in the community. In these roles, he inspires students to explore careers in law and civics, even helping a student earn an opportunity to meet with Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor.

Samantha Schwartz

11th Grade ELA Special Education, J.M. Rapport School for Career Development, Mott Haven (75X754) - Early Career Recipient

Samantha Schwartz is often faced with students that have internalized lowered expectations for themselves based on past experiences, but Ms. Schwartz refuses to accept that her students cannot excel and teaches them to believe the same about themselves. She maintains high standards and utilizes “accountable talk” strategies, supporting students based on their individual needs while ensuring a universally designed curriculum. She began her career as a special education New York City Teaching Fellow and has made significant impacts on the lives of her students and her school community ever since. Ms. Schwartz is a leader among her peers, serving as the chairperson on the school-wide assessment team, and serving as an instructional lead for the DOE’s Teacher Leadership Program. Ms. Schwartz is an enthusiastic, motivated educator who strives to support not only her students’ growth and achievement, but also her own. Her work is most notably highlighted by her assistant principal, “Samantha is a true visionary in the field of special education and a pioneer in English Language Arts instruction.”

Nicole Kasbar

6th through 8th Grade Dance and Movement teacher, I.S. 98 Bay Academy for the Arts and Sciences, Sheepshead Bay (21K098) - Big Apple Arts Award Recipient

A recent dance class in Ms. Kasbar’s classroom was, in the words of one observer, “highly organized chaos.” Dance and technology mixed in interesting ways as students made connections between their own dance and a famous choreography by Martha Graham titled Clytemnestra. The leader of the Arts Achieve Program at I.S. 98, Ms. Kasbar worked to secure grant funding for iPads for assessment, reflection, and research. As a 16-year veteran of New York public schools, she draws on her expertise in science, drama, and health to integrate these domains into her Fit for Life, Dance Talent, and Physical Education programs. Her classroom is a great example of how an exceptional dance educator creates a creative and rigorous literacy structure while keeping the integrity and authenticity of the dance-making process.

The Big Apple Arts Award is made possible by generous funding from Lincoln Center Education.