Distinguished teachers celebrated

Distinguished teachers, in center, from left up front, Mary Beth Smith, Esra Murray and Stephen Kinner, and in back, Melissa Macchio Brown, Cecilia Aita and Jennifer Benoit, were joined by Board of Education Chair Leslie Moriarty, First Selectman Peter Tesei, Superintendent William McKersie and Committee Chair Angela Schmidt. — Ken Borsuk photo

Distinguished teachers, in center, from left up front, Mary Beth Smith, Esra Murray and Stephen Kinner, and in back, Melissa Macchio Brown, Cecilia Aita and Jennifer Benoit, were joined by Board of Education Chair Leslie Moriarty, First Selectman Peter Tesei, Superintendent William McKersie and Committee Chair Angela Schmidt.
— Ken Borsuk photo

In honoring the six Greenwich Public Schools teachers who inspired and achieved to the level where they could truly be called “distinguished,” the town did not hesitate to shine the spotlight on the entire profession of teaching.

“There is no more important a job than being a teacher,” said First Selectman Peter Tesei, the father of children entering the Greenwich Public Schools. “Teaching is the most challenging, yet rewarding profession. It’s challenging in that you have to come to class every day with enthusiasm and the ability to captivate the minds of so many different individual children. Children today have so much going on in their lives, and to captivate them and connect with them so they can learn is no easy feat. But it is through your commitment and training and passion for the profession that you succeed.”

The annual ceremony was held this year on Tuesday, which happened to be National Teacher Appreciation Day, which made it a very appropriate day to highlight the achievements of Central Middle School special education teacher Cecilia Aita, Greenwich High School special education teacher Jennifer Benoit, GHS English/AVID teacher Melissa Macchio Brown, Eastern Middle School teacher Stephen Kinner, International School at Dundee fifth grade teacher Esra Murray, and GHS English teacher Mary Beth Smith as the 2013 class of distinguished teachers.

All six were honored for their work at a ceremony Tuesday afternoon at Western Middle School and were called nothing short of “exemplary” by the school’s principal, Terry Starr-Klein.

“They demonstrate instructional excellence and personal commitment to their students and to the learning process,” Ms. Starr-Klein said. “They have the ability to inspire and motivate children.”

Superintendent of Schools William McKersie said the six honorees had excelled through personal connections to their students, and Board of Education Chairman Leslie Moriarty said she was personally inspired by them.

“We are so lucky to have you in our midst and to have teachers like you all over our district,” she told the winners.

As for the honorees themselves, in brief remarks they said they were honored and humbled by the awards and were quick to thank their families and their colleagues.

“I did not earn this award alone,” Ms. Aita said. “I wish the staff at Central Middle School was up with me right now.”

Mr. Kinner later said, “I never envisioned myself a distinguished teacher and neither would you if you saw me at the end of the school day. … Without the help of everyone at Eastern Middle School I can’t do my job and if I can’t do my job then my students can’t do the incredible things they do on a daily basis. This award is not just for me. It’s for all of us.”

Each of the teachers was introduced by the person who nominated them. Victoria Newman called Ms. Murray “ the finest elementary school teacher I have ever known. She is the kind of teacher children may encounter only once in a lifetime.”

Many of the teachers were joined at the ceremony by their families, and the theme of family was central to the remarks of Ms. Macchio Brown, who has shepherded the AVID Program at GHS to get kids to be the first ones in their family to attend college. The program has been a complete success, with its first graduating class moving on next month, and several of the students were there to give loud and happy applause to their teacher.

“It is your success, all 16 of you into college, that allowed me to be nominated for this award,” Ms. Macchio Brown told her students. “Even though I’m up here and you’re down there, we share this distinction. I’m thrilled by the sustenance you will offer the world when you graduate.”

Ms. Benoit also talked about her students, saying the relationships formed were one of the best parts of teaching.

“My students are some of the bravest people I’ve had the opportunity to know,” Ms. Benoit said. “They come in seeing school as a place of failure and struggle, but yet they come. To show up on a daily basis to a place that in the past has not afforded them feelings of self-worth and accomplishment is a brave art. They enter the Comprehensive Support Program willing to give it another try and open themselves up, becoming incredibly vulnerable. I am awed by this offering of trust.”

Ms. Smith also spoke about her connection with students, bringing up an exercise they did to overcome fears and challenges by rappelling off a 70-foot cliff. And who was in charge of making sure her rope and knot was secure? A student to whom she had just given a failing grade and detention, two days earlier, but she trusted the student enough to take that leap.

“Teaching is like that,” Ms. Smith said. “It’s frightening, exciting, dangerous — and always worth the risk. It’s the best job in the world, and I love it.”

 

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