Meet the Recipients
2017 Big Apple Award Recipients
The 2017 Big Apple Award recipients were chosen from a pool of more than 7,800 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 2017-18 school year.
5th Grade Teacher, P.S. 215 Morris H. Weiss, Gravesend (21K215)
Danielle Bocchino has always loved learning; as a child, even the smell of a classroom made her think of a "safe, happy home." Given those fond memories, it is unsurprising that she decided to teach at the elementary school she attended as a child, P.S. 215, where she has taught for the past 14 years. Mrs. Bocchino holds her students to rigorous standards, rewarding them with "conversation coupons" when they use accountable talk, guiding them to synthesize new information with prior knowledge, and preparing them to lead and design questions for student-run Socratic seminars. Student-made, Common Core-aligned rubrics also set clear expectations; Mrs. Bocchino stresses the importance of student independence because, she believes, "It is important to let them do the work."
On a given day in Ms. Bocchino’s classroom, students may pose to represent the literary meanings of flowers or sing Pharrell’s "Happy" to interpret the emotions of a poet. At the beginning of this year, just 17 percent of her students were meeting fifth grade math standards; by mid-year, 86 percent were meeting the standards including 34 percent who were exceeding them. Similarly, the number of students exceeding grade-level language standards increased from 20 percent to 93 percent in half a year. Mrs. Bocchino explains that her "passion to see an ‘Aha’ moment from a child and know that you had a role in getting them there," is a powerful motivation for her. "Mrs. Bocchino is a one of a kind teacher," says one parent. "My daughter loved going to school and didn’t like to ever miss a day, all because of her."
High School Math Teacher, Academy for Young Writers, East New York (19K404)
"I want my students to be creators – to design, innovate, and problem-solve their way to a better future." Eight years ago, Corinne Cornibe’s passion for social justice inspired her to leave her architecture career to begin teaching at Academy for Young Writers. As a math teacher, Ms. Cornibe wondered how she could engage students in logical reasoning and problem solving in a more effective way that appealed to their interests. "Teenagers are excellent consumers of technology – immersed in cell phones, social media, and video games," she explains. This inspired Ms. Cornibe to start a robotics program and later establish an Advanced Placement Computer Science program. These opportunities have ignited students’ passions and interest in learning – 73 percent of last year’s graduating class took a course in computer science, robotics, or both. Ms. Cornibe hopes that due to this increased student engagement, her school will eventually be thought of as the "Academy for Young Code Writers."
Ms. Cornibe’s room is always abuzz with activity – students may be using power tools to modify their robots or providing feedback to peers about how to modify their computer game code. Ms. Cornibe believes that these experiences translate into better futures for her students. Her Advanced Placement students serve as Coding Ambassadors to the entire school community for the Hour of Code week in December, which Ms. Cornibe has run at her school for the past two years. "Students who complete the challenge are highlighted on the Coding Wall of Fame in the school’s lobby. When students do struggle, Ms. Cornibe reminds them of her favorite word, "yet." She says, "We may not be able to do it yet, but we will get there."
Middle School Math Teacher, I.S. 219 New Venture School, Claremont Village (09X219)
Yocasty Diaz has worked at I.S. 219 for 16 years – first as an assistant teacher and for the past ten years as a math teacher. She describes her classroom as “a center of investigation, discovery, and risk-taking opportunities.” Ms. Diaz utilizes project-based instruction focusing on meteorological science. Her students film weather broadcasts in front of a green screen, which have been featured on Univision, and her science team participates in a NASA program where they can speak with an astronaut once a month. Ms. Diaz hopes that these experiences will expand her students’ horizons by providing them exposure to professions that they might have lacked otherwise.
Ms. Diaz creates task-specific rubrics for each assignment to track student progress and identify needed interventions. She uses Google Classroom to provide students with an opportunity to create their own tutorial videos to share problem-solving strategies with one another. The resulting critical thinking skills, she explains, are important, "because once students develop that, there is nothing that can stop them. They will ask questions, collaborate, and ask for more opportunities to foster their curiosity." Ms. Diaz is intentional about building connections with her bilingual students’ families and communities. Her school’s Assistant Principal praises the love and concern she has for her students as the hallmark of her success, commenting, "I have seen students vie with each other to be near her. I have never seen a student reluctant to enter her classroom."
5th Grade Gifted & Talented Teacher, P.S. 163 Alfred E. Smith, Upper West Side (03M163)
Keira Dillon’s father taught at a Queens public school for 40 years, and over her ten years at P.S. 163, Ms. Dillon seeks to carry on his legacy of exposing students to great works of philosophy and art. Her goal: "to offer enriching academic and social opportunities that mirror this amazing city." Ms. Dillon believes in building cross-curricular connections; "Anything can serve as a launching pad into deep thinking," she says. Her students conduct a weekly song analysis through a Socratic seminar; before starting their conversation, students review their successes from the previous week and set goals to improve. During these conversations, students push each other’s thinking and encourage their partners to offer insights shared during their pre-discussion. On a given day in Ms. Dillon’s classroom, students may analyze the 1957 song "Seven and a Half Cents," connecting it to the life of Caesar Chavez and using it to springboard into multiplying fractions. "She wears her passions on her sleeve for the kids to see and feel," says one parent.
Ms. Dillon serves on her school’s Family Outreach Committee, planning field trips, potlucks, and other family activities. Her open lines of communication to families include weekly and even daily emails, as well as including them in celebrating her students’ work during publishing parties. Last year, 100 percent of Ms. Dillon’s students met their reading benchmarks while 95 percent met or exceeded state standards in ELA and math.
English as a New Language Teacher, P.S. 230 Doris L. Cohen, Kensington (15K230)
“I have an unwavering love of language,” Adriana DiScipio shares, now in her eleventh year working with (often newly arrived) English Language Learners at P.S. 230. “I perceive my students’ linguistic diversity as a strength and a resource.” Driven by a fundamental belief that every child can achieve success when given the right supports and opportunities, Ms. DiScipio meticulously tracks students’ progress in language and writing skills, so she knows exactly what areas they need to work on. She spends a lot of her class time deconstructing content language for her students, and works to integrate language objectives into the curriculum that meet diverse learners’ needs.
Beyond her classroom, Ms. DiScipio serves as a Learning Partners Program Model Teacher, sharing work around language learning, academic conversation, and vocabulary development with the rest of her school community. Ms. DiScipio is devoted to fostering independence in her students; as she explains, “I want them to go to sixth grade confident that they can keep up as writers.” A colleague praises her ability to reach students who initially seem reluctant to be in school without compromising rigor, saying, “Students feel safe to express themselves when they are with her.”
High School Art Teacher, High School of Art and Design, Midtown East (02M630)
In 1981, James Harrington was accepted as a student at the High School of Art and Design. The son of immigrants, he came to the school without any arts background, but, he recalls, his teachers opened his eyes to a world of art and instilled a lifelong belief that “art is for everyone.” Now in his eleventh year teaching at the school he graduated from (and his fifteenth year teaching in NYC schools), Mr. Harrington strives to live up to his own teachers’ legacy as mentors who saw their students as artists. Relating to his students – many of whom, like him, come from immigrant families without an arts background – Mr. Harrington reflects, “I became a teacher to pass on the gift of art to a new generation, just as it was passed on to me.”
Mr. Harrington’s students have won countless awards, scholarships, and competitions. Through his Advanced Placement course, they also earn college credits; his classes regularly achieve a 100 percent pass rate, with 80 percent of seniors typically earning a score of 4 or 5. Mr. Harrington introduces the College Board’s AP Art Rubric as benchmark standards for his juniors a year early, so they are well prepared for the course the following year. A colleague describes him as “revered by students both past and present” who regularly return to visit years after graduating. Mr. Harrington establishes this rapport by seeing himself as a partner. “I act as a guide, but they choose the destination,” he explains. “My job is to get out of the way, to allow students personal freedom to develop their own creative voices.”
High School English Teacher, Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology, Belmont (10X438)
Leslie Lehrman explains that she left her career in magazine publishing “to combine my passion for reading and writing with my love for children.” She is currently in her eleventh year teaching in NYC high schools, and her first at Fordham Leadership Academy, where her goal is to “help students develop skills not only for academic college and career success but lifelong success, empowering them to be literate, critical thinkers.” Last year, teaching at Lehman High School, her students had a 100 percent pass rate on the Regents exam, including 97 percent who demonstrated college readiness (scoring a 75 percent or higher). This January, her students’ pass rate was 42 percentage points higher than the previous January’s rate. Even her tenth grade students will take a mock Regents exam this year and test their preparation a year early, fulfilling Ms. Lehrman’s expectation that “every class is a Regents class.”
As a Master Teacher, Ms. Lehrman acts as the department lead, guiding vertical alignment of instructional strategies, and helps to lead a professional learning community, collaborating with colleagues to develop and deliver monthly professional development aligned with schoolwide goals. Described by her principal as “the student whisperer,” Ms. Lehrman introduces a variety of strategies to inspire her students to appreciate and love literature. Ms. Lehrman encourages her students to continuously revise their writing based on feedback, so they know that they will always have the opportunity to improve by reminding them of her motto, “Nothing is ever done.”
5th Grade Teacher, Central Park East II, East Harlem (04M964)
“I see kids at-promise rather than at-risk,” Jessica Martell declares. Ms. Martell has taught for 19 years, including the past two at Central Park East II following her students from fourth grade to fifth grade. Currently working in an ICT setting, she became a teacher to combine her love of New York City with her belief that every student is entitled to a quality public education.
Ms. Martell thoughtfully considers how to link culturally relevant practices to the Common Core State Standards, and is very intentional about providing reading materials that are written by authors of color or that feature protagonists from similar backgrounds as her students, so that literature can serve as both a window and a mirror. She does this in part through a book club partnership with the Museum of the City of New York, where students and parents explore books with themes of cultural respect or detailing movements for social justice. Ms. Martell collaborates with Teachers’ College and the Pan-American Center to plan an annual visit by an author of color to speak to her students, such as Duncan Tonatiuh and Jacqueline Woodson. This year, each of her students has grown at least two reading levels, and fulfill her goal that “all students see themselves as capable and brilliant readers and writers.” One parent comments, “She helps the kids bring out the best of themselves without directing them but by leading them to express themselves.”
Reading Recovery Teacher, Archer Elementary School, Parkchester (12X531)
Nash Matute has taught in New York City public schools for seven years, including the last three at Archer Elementary. Previously a fifth grade special education teacher, Ms. Matute now serves as a Reading Recovery teacher for a group of first grade students. She explains that she is “driven by the never-ending room to grow and develop.” She focuses on “following the child” and giving them ownership for their own thinking. Ms. Matute provides students with assessment criteria and helps them translate academic rubric language into more actionable checklists, then conferences with students on how to use those checklists to improve their own work. Last year, her students averaged more than 1.5 years of reading growth and made significant gains on both the ELA and math State exams.
Ms. Matute also serves as an instructional coach for her school’s upper grades and has implemented a schoolwide teacher and peer conferencing system for teachers to assess and build relationships with students; this model allows students the opportunity for self-assessment. Ms. Matute established and now oversees a schoolwide buddy reading system that pairs upper grade students to serve as mentors to lower grade students. The program has grown to now include parents as well. Ms. Matute “makes families and community a priority,” says the school’s special education coordinator. She engages with parents using mobile apps to communicate about upcoming trips, events, and special days, and invites them to cultural feasts and celebrations in her room.
Elementary Autism Teacher, P.S. K231, Bay Ridge (75K231)
Katie McArdle has spent the past 14 years teaching New York City students on the autism spectrum. “After college, I stumbled upon a graduate program focusing on students with severe and multiple disabilities,” she recalls. “As soon as I began, I knew I had found my niche.” In her fourth year at P.S. 231, a colleague describes Mrs. McArdle’s classroom as “a buzzing hive of activity.” Each students’ unique learning style is respected and nurtured through routines, incentives, and multisensory learning experiences. During independent writing, every student in Mrs. McArdle’s classroom utilizes their own “toolkit” containing self-generated topic ideas and individualized dictionaries featuring words that they are currently learning. “Being fair does not mean that all students get the same thing,” Mrs. McArdle explains about her differentiated approach. “It means that all students get what they need to achieve success.”
Mrs. McArdle’s primary focus is on developing her students’ self-awareness, self-control, and self-advocacy. Using a positive, proactive approach to behavior management, expectations are reinforced using visual aids and a token system. Thanks to her efforts, all students are on track to meet their IEP goals and several are moving towards less restrictive programs or services. Mrs. McArdle uses the Class Dojo app to provide families with photos and live streams of classroom activities, serving as a jumping off point for conversations that continue at home and in the community. Parents are invited to participate in readings or other activities during “Fun Fridays.” In all of these efforts, she says, “My number one goal is to prepare students for a life beyond the self-contained classroom.”
6th Grade Math Teacher, Hellenic Classical Charter School, South Slope (84K362)
Volunteering as a children’s basketball coach, Faye Michalakos loved the look of achievement in students’ eyes when they made a basket or won a game. Her passion for watching children grow, and the possibility of creating those sorts of moments in a classroom, is what inspired her to become a teacher at Hellenic Classical Charter School. Now in her tenth year at the school, Ms. Michalakos ties all of her instruction to real world examples and experiences for her math students. Beyond infusing data from the presidential election or the dissection of a bank statement into her classes, Ms. Michalakos plans trips to a supermarket to compare unit prices and to a bowling alley exploring how to calculate averages. She believes that each lesson should start or end with the question, “How can we use this in our lives?”
Understanding the “why” of math is critical to her students’ success; the number of students scoring proficient on the state exam has increased significantly each the past three years. Ms. Michalakos builds partnerships with parents and families through schoolwide engagement events such as open houses and curriculum nights, while also regularly sending home lesson decks so that parents can follow the material and better assist with homework. In the classroom, she insists upon students using math vocabulary and accountable talk, and prepares them to facilitate their own Socratic seminars and to monitor their own progress by writing themselves “glow and grow” notes. Ultimately, Ms. Michalakos aims to not just make her students college- and career-ready, but “life ready.”
Carmen I. Morales
TASC Preparation Teacher, East River Academy, Rikers Island (79Q344)
Of her 30 years teaching in New York City, Carmen Morales has spent the past 25 at East River Academy working with incarcerated students. “Although the school resides in a jail setting,” she says, “I make sure that my classroom environment feels like a huge hug.” Recognizing that her students are at the lowest time in their lives, she “sneaks” hopeful and inspiring messages into their work to keep them engaged, and cultivates a physical learning environment which is uniquely suited to the social emotional needs of high-risk boys. Ms. Morales establishes strong relationships with her students to ensure they take responsibility for their learning and work towards the tangible goal of earning their high school equivalency diplomas. “They do not just learn,” says one colleague, “they excel!”
Ms. Morales works hard to build connections for her students to the outside world, and exposes them to a wide range of rigorous content. Her students now quote Shakespeare and many other authors. A tireless advocate, Ms. Morales requires students to have regular, weekly family contact to share what they are studying, so that they can be partners pulling in the same direction. With her preparation, students have earned a 99 percent passing rate on the High School Equivalency exam, offering them the possibility of a brighter future. “It’s hard for a rose to grow through that concrete,” Ms. Morales admits, but “running into a student outside and having him tell you that you were one of the reasons that he is successful is one of the best awards any teacher can receive.”
Special Education Teacher, P.S. 199 Maurice A. Fitzgerald, Sunnyside (24Q199)
In Patrick Murphy’s nine years teaching at P.S. 199, student research projects and presentations have ranged from natural disasters and recycling to prosthetics and zoochosis. After Mr. Murphy brought a Lego Robotics program to the school several years ago, hundreds of children have participated and been inspired to consider engineering careers. He believes in tapping into his students’ interests and passions to drive instruction, saying, “I became a teacher because I love the art of learning.” Rather than competing with games and cartoons, Mr. Murphy appeals to these motivations by using robotics to teach math concepts like decimals and degrees or playing a clip from the cartoon Adventure Time to explore the concept of symbolism. Individual student conferences also help him monitor student progress and create monthly goal sheets aligned to rigorous academic standards. In his previous fifth grade class, every student grew at least four reading levels, reaching schoolwide benchmarks.
Beyond using technology to link parents to his classroom, Mr. Murphy also created a schoolwide internet domain and trained colleagues to use Google Apps for Education. These tools allow students to research, collaborate, and share ideas with one another, and they can help bridge the language barrier with non-English speaking parents through translation apps. “I have never met a teacher that exhibited such understanding and care for students,” says one parent. “You can tell Mr. Murphy truly enjoys teaching and works hard to make a difference for his students.”
Physical Education Teacher, P.S. 118 Lorraine Hansberry, St. Albans (29Q118)
“My Physical Education class is a place of moving and learning,” Rose Newman declares. In her ninth year of teaching, her overall goal is for students to “have fun while learning about health-related fitness, skills, and character.” She also sets specific goals that can be tracked during the year; to combat the obesity epidemic, students are expected to spend at least 50 percent of class time engaged in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and complete at least 1,000 steps during each lesson, as measured by the use of pedometers. Ms. Newman displays learning outcomes that her students review before each lesson, such as “I can calculate my heart rate” or “I can explain five benefits of engaging in aerobic activities.” Math and ELA content is also integrated into her lessons as a cross-curricular approach.
Students are empowered in Ms. Newman’s classroom, where she calls them her “friends.” Students use self-monitoring behavior clip charts to hold themselves accountable, and the Mighty Milers program allows them to earn incentives for reaching physical education milestones. They even take on leadership roles such as managing equipment, motivating others, leading workouts, and conducting peer and self-assessments. Ms. Newman is piloting a Running Start program to get kids active before the school day begins, and shares best practices and strategies with other district PE teachers through her Professional Learning Community. Ms. Newman’s vision is that “every student is pushed to their potential to maintain academic excellence and physical fitness for lifelong health.”
Middle School Social Studies Teacher, The Urban Assembly Unison School, Clinton Hill (13K351)
“I wake up every morning excited to do this work,” says Rosario Orengo, now in her 13th year teaching in New York City. For Ms. Orengo, the work of being an educator means creating a safe environment, in which her students feel comfortable taking academic risks and sharing their own confusions and misunderstandings. Focusing on conversation and discussion, she uses high-interest readings (such as Howard Zinn) and integrates connections to current events to motivate her students. “Most pre-teens and teenagers love to argue,” Ms. Orengo says. “I tap into that natural instinct with tasks that challenge them to support their arguments with text-based facts and evidence.” A colleague shares, “She deeply understands the importance of using the power of diversity to engage her students and explore issues of race, culture, and socio-economics.”
Ms. Orengo serves as a Learning Partners Program Model Teacher, inviting colleagues to observe her practice and visiting other teachers’ classrooms. She has helped introduce restorative practices into the building, and demonstrates that students will rise to the occasion when held to high expectations. Earlier this year, 75 percent of her students had made gains outpacing national levels of reading growth, demonstrating that Ms. Orengo is helping to close the achievement gap in reading. She explains, “I teach and care for my students as if they were my own children.”
Dual Language Middle School Math Teacher, Middle School 322, Fort George (06M322)
During her 17 years teaching in New York City, Elaine Rodriguez has mainly served a population of newly arrived immigrant students, often from the Dominican Republic, who come to her classroom with minimal formal schooling. To mitigate any apprehensions, she says, “I practice an open-door-at-all-times policy. My door welcomes positive thinking and mistakes from students, parents, administrators and visitors.” She helped found the school’s dual language program, proving, as her principal states, that “language and content instruction can work in elegant harmony.” In her dual language classroom, Ms. Rodriguez models instruction in Spanish for one week and then continues the curriculum in English the following week. To meet her students’ unique needs, she creates personalized resources in their native language such as checklists, study guides, and scaffold-guided notes with probing questions.
Ms. Rodriguez sets goals for students to meet her high expectations as learners, mathematicians, and human beings, and is heartened to see that even her most struggling students come to love math. Through her differentiated approach, students at all levels are able to make connections and participate in peer discussions using academic terminology. Through close ties with students and families, she works hard to instill a strong sense of personal and cultural pride in her students. Her principal states, “She is a remarkable teacher with unmatched dedication and compassion.”
2nd Grade Special Education Teacher, P.S. 45 John Tyler, West Brighton (31R045)
As a parent, Julia Satt was struck by the profound impact that a teacher can have on the lives of students and families. For this reason, she became a New York City teacher to work with special education students. She has taught at P.S. 45 for ten years in an ICT setting, focused on educating the whole child, responding to each student’s unique behaviors and needs, and using restorative circles to promote equity of voice. Ms. Satt’s principal is struck by her classroom’s “purposeful hum.” In her class, she refers to student-created exemplar work to illustrate what is expected and forge a deep understanding of what mastery looks like in all subject areas. “Success is the greatest motivator in life,” Ms. Satt shares. “One of the most detrimental impediments to struggling learners is the belief that ‘I am not good at this.’”
A significant portion of Ms. Satt’s students have made two years’ worth of reading, writing, and math progress in just one year. A former student exclaims, “She is the most kind, funny, and loving teacher I have ever met. She teaches you way more than required for the next grade.” As a Peer Collaborative Teacher, Ms. Satt facilitates professional development sessions on topics such as word study and foundational standards in literacy. Every day, Ms. Satt emphasizes developing a growth mindset in her classroom. “If students are not where they want or need to be, we know it means we are simply not there yet,” she says. At the end of a lesson, she asks the class, “Is everyone perfectly finished? No. But are we closer to achieving our goal tomorrow? Yes!”
Pre-Kindergarten Teacher, Shorefront YM-YWHA (Shorefront Y Community Center), Brighton Beach (KBQL)
Raised in a family of educators, Diana Shteynberg’s goal is to guide students to be “self-initiating and self-directed learners” and to “grow from dreamers to doers.” Because most of her students are English Language Learners, she employs bilingual strategies, such as parallel talk in both English and her students’ home language, in order to increase comprehension. One parent notes, “By the end of the year, all of the kids have turned into mature and independent bilinguals! Even now, when I ask my son where he learned a difficult math concept or challenging English word, he always answers – Ms. Diana.”
Ms. Shteynberg seeks to create a welcoming environment and an atmosphere of trust for every child and family. She builds strong parent partnerships, offering positive and constructive feedback, and as an active part of her community, parents often seek her out for support and guidance. Many former students and parents keep in touch with Ms. Shteynberg long after pre-K. At the end of last year, every student in Ms. Shteynberg’s class was able to enter Kindergarten without the ESL program due to excelling in language and literacy. Close to half her students also passed the gifted and talented test for Kindergarten. The school’s Director of Early Childhood explains, “Every student from Ms. Shteynberg’s class is always well prepared for entering Kindergarten, and every parent has a clear understanding of how to support their child.”
6th Grade Humanities Teacher, University Neighborhood Middle School, Lower East Side (01M332)
Binh Thai began his teaching career 17 years ago as a member of the inaugural cohort of the New York City Teaching Fellows. Over the course of his 17-year career, including a decade at University Neighborhood Middle School, Mr. Thai has impacted his school community in many ways. He has applied for numerous grants, winning more than $80,000 for books and laptops over the years, and has mentored more than 100 new teachers. Mr. Thai developed a character-based program that teaches students to develop agency, set goals, and be conscientious. He also earned a Fulbright Award to study critical thinking development in Finland, and applies those learnings to his current practices.
Mr. Thai implements a 360-degree feedback process in his classroom: students receive feedback from each other as well as from their teacher, and Mr. Thai uses an online form to solicit feedback on his instruction directly from students. When students enter Mr. Thai’s room, they are invited to “get into the zone” – which means engaging in independent reading until they are completely engrossed. Mr. Thai uses this time to circulate and conference with individual students. His Literature Circles program enables him to set goals and track student progress in reading fluency, stamina, and comprehension. This year, each of Mr. Thai’s students have already read more than 25 books – up to 8,000 pages – on grade level. He has seen students grow as much as from a third to a sixth grade level. The class’s culminating tradition is an annual publishing party, in which students discuss and read their compiled narrative writing, and sign copies for one another and their families. Mr. Thai hopes to use this wide-ranging exposure to diverse literature to open students’ eyes to the world around them.