The National Liberty Museum celebrated its 14th annual Teacher as Hero Award sponsored by State Farm® with a Virtual Awards Ceremony on Saturday, September 24. The ceremony honored 10 inspiring teachers who make a difference in the lives of their students. To mark the occasion, State Farm Representatives, National Liberty Museum leadership, friends and family gathered via Zoom to celebrate the accomplishments of these exceptional educators. It is our pleasure to announce this year’s honorees.
Congratulations to the 2020 Honorees
Virginia Barbarin teaches Middle School African American History at Chester County’s Seba Enrichment Academy. With humor and compassion, Barbarin serves as a mentor or tutor to many students, often providing supplies to those at need at her own expense. Her lessons inspire her students and encourage them to strive for excellence as they learn about their history, even if it is hard to face unpleasant truths about the history of slavery.
Andrew Coates is a fifth-grade teacher at Overlook Elementary School in Abington, Pa. His gift and passion for teaching makes each student feel special and successful. Making full and creative use of a plethora of internet resources, his daily teaching grounds his students in exposure to and understanding of current technologies.
Kelly Espinoza is a Kindergarten teach at Montgomery County’s Musselman Learning Center. After a devastating fire killed a student from the school, Espinoza galvanized the school community and the local fire department to distribute and install free smoke detectors for Norristown citizens. Inspired by this success, she spearheaded an annual school fire safety education night where fire prevention education and risk education strategies were provided to the children and their parents.
Sofia Gonzalez is an 11th grade English Teacher whose boundless energy is evident not only in her classroom but also in her guidance of student club activities. One of these is an activity called “Snowball,” which is designed to help students begin or continue to live a healthy lifestyle.
The Director of STEM education and a member of the Student Safety Committee of the school’s Governance Board, Larrea infuses high levels of content and educational strategies with humor and profound respect for each child. Known for innovation, creativity and a keen knowledge of best practices that ignite his students, he is engaging in ways that help even the most reluctant learners become more focused and involved in their own education.
Concerned that their Hispanic population lacked a specific cultural connection to the school, Morris decided to incorporate Hispanic culture into everyday school activities by conducting part of the daily announcements in Spanish. She expanded this first step of inclusion into a month-long Hispanic Heritage Program, incorporating cultural awareness with educationally relevant lessons. She also created a Hispanic Heritage Career Expo and Carnival De Bethune, an activity where students were immersed in Hispanic culture with food, games, crafts and a student-made Heritage Museum.
A 12-year veteran teacher of 10-12th grade Automotive Technology at Jules Mastbaum High School, Sasha Singh creates an environment of trust and partnership with his students. His active volunteerism for Hispanic community events inspires his students to participate in community service activities both in school and in their neighborhoods. His former students are still motivated by his example and many return to the school to participate in the Occupational Advisory Committee and as mentors for his current students.
Nominated by a three-year student, Tracy has incorporated her passion for activism into her teaching. Advocating for a more green school campus, she encouraged her AP Human Geography class to meet with Delaware legislators and successfully lobby for a ban on single-use plastic bags. Tracy also developed a school garden with the Environmental Club, culminating in the donation of 1,000 pounds of fresh vegetables thus far to various local food banks and shelters.
Katherine Villone is a 4th grade teacher at Franklin Elementary School in Bergenfield, NJ. She was recognized for her dedicated acts of kindness and compassion, and for her ability to mentor and build up every child she meets. During the pandemic, Villone has continuously focused on her students’ well-being, holding numerous virtual game nights and Zoom calls to keep spirits high. She visited each of her students with birthday surprises and made sure they were doing well, serving as a role model, friend and inspiration at these challenging times.
A teacher of African American history at Central High School, Williams engages her students by making sure they are learning in a way that speaks to their needs as students from multiple cultural backgrounds. Before the pandemic, Williams coached the school’s basketball team, sponsored the Black Youth Coalition, and worked with students to create a school fashion show. When the school closed for the pandemic, she was one of the first teachers to support the students’ participation in a virtual history class.
Strength & Fragility: The Story of the NLM highlights the life of the Museum’s founder Irvin J. Borowsky, and how his belief in universal equality and liberty, as well as his passion for contemporary glass art, led to the creation of the National Liberty Museum. Strength & Fragility includes engaging archival material, stunning glass artwork, and immersive soundscapes. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a magnificent 9-foot-high glass canopy by Ulla Darni, entitled “The Peace Portal.” It features a custom sound bath experience, Seeds of Love, written and produced by Philadelphia-based sound artist Luna Maye, in collaboration with composer Alfiya Glow.
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Since the NLM’s founding, a major component of our work has been our series of annual awards programs honoring the everyday heroes who live among us. This exhibition celebrates teachers, students, police officers, firefighters & first-responders, and healthcare professionals who have demonstrated extraordinary courage and made a difference in the lives of others.
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