The National Liberty Museum celebrated its 15th annual Teacher as Hero Award sponsored by State Farm® with a Virtual Awards Ceremony on Saturday, May 8. 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 2021 Honorees
Since the program started in 2016, Ms. Tameka Aldridge exemplifies what it means to be a caring teacher. She teaches her class about giving back to the community and about the world beyond the classroom. Last year, her class donated over 600+ cans and non-perishable items for the Northwest Food Bank’s annual food drive. Ms. Aldridge also created a loan area in her classroom to provide students with belts in case they forget, and has purchased shoes for students who were unable to afford new ones. Although humble, Ms. Aldridge exemplifies leadership, putting kids first, safety, and enthusiasm.
Ms. Donnelly creates a welcoming home for our diverse high school through the Film & Technology Association. She has created a home where students feel accepted and challenged, and free to express themselves and do what interests them. Many students come to the club as a safe space; especially after the Theater club was cut, and Ms. Donnelly allowed those kids to transition over and continue their passion of media production. Ms. Donnelly became a mentor, guiding her students through the difficulties of high school, human relationships, college readiness, and adult life. She strengthens her kids so that they have confidence in themselves. Due to her prior experience of working in college admissions, Ms. Donnelly has been a drastic help in preparing her students for the rigorous demands of college opportunities.
Mrs. Freeman is the Darby Township school’s social worker and she runs Social Skills groups for self-contained, emotionally disturbed students. One of the skills that our students need help with is how to resolve conflicts respectfully, and she has taught many lessons on how to disagree respectfully and how to handle it if someone is provoking an issue. Mrs. Freeman uses these teachable moments to teach about conflict and the consequences that accompany poor choices. Similarly, Mrs. Freeman explains rights and responsibilities to students and holds students accountable. Mrs. Freeman’s extensive knowledge of available community resources has helped provide our families with the necessary resources. When a family experienced several deaths in one year, Mrs. Freeman worked with the mom through her depression. Similarly, Mrs. Freeman worked diligently with a family when she found out the mother was struggling with mental illness and her children were failing school. Mrs. Freeman went to the home and to appointments with the mom to guarantee every member of the household was taken care of. The heart she has for her students provides the perfect amount of understanding and compassion necessary to be an effective teacher of Social Skills.
Mr. Gonzalez is an exceptional teacher because he takes the time to really get to know all of his students, and is often referred to as the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time). He makes learning fun and has dedicated over 25 years to Garfield High and the community of East Los Angeles. He is very involved in the school and community including the coach of many sports, engineering club sponsor, Global Senate sponsor, and mariachi director. He knows how to connect with his students and teaches them to believe in themselves. He has been a great role model, teacher and father figure to many of his students.
Angela Iovine is a teacher whose efforts go far beyond the normal duties of a high school teacher. While being a skilled and respected teacher at Kensington Health Sciences Academy High School, she also is thinking globally for her students in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. She recognizes that there is so much for her students beyond the neighborhood, the city and in fact beyond our country’s borders. By working with the Citizen Diplomacy International in Spring 2018, Ms. Iovine’s students from Kensington Health Sciences were part of a delegation of students from Philadelphia that traveled to Florence, Italy for a ten-day exchange with students and teachers at Istituto Aurelio Saffi High School. While in Florence they participated in in-depth classes, learning to create Italian cuisine, experienced the cultural centers of Florence and traveled in the Tuscany region of Italy. Having an experience that will be with them for a lifetime as well as exposing them to career options that they were neveraware of for their future. They then hosted in the spring of 2019 students and teachers from the Florence High School here in Philadelphia while studying at their school. Not to be limited because of COVID, Ms. Iovine is taking her students into the virtual world and is presently working with officials in the Education Department of Kobe, Japan in creating a virtual exchange with students and teachers of a high school in Kobe. Efforts to create such opportunities takes dedication to the students, along with hard work and determination to bring such a vision to fruition. Angela Iovine possesses the drive and determination to accomplish the goal of providing toher students an opportunity that few may have never even thought of as being possible.
As the department head, Ms. Kleinman provides her students and school her endless creativity and passion for finding STEM opportunities. She is an active member of our Equity and Diversity’s committee sponsored teacher book club on diversity. She demonstrates an appreciation for diversity among her peers with her interest, questions and contributions to the equity Courageous Conversations. Ms. Kleinman has even attended diversity trainings such as Broward Alliance of Black School Educators Virtual S.L.I.C.E. Conference, Women in STEM training and even has organized a Girls Who Code club to promote greater diversity in STEM professions. Ms. Kleinman’s classes also experience an appreciation for diversity with the events that she carefully prepares for them. She has kept her students connected to the community so remarkably during remote teaching with events such as guest speakers in robotics and engineering or even a virtual field trip to see the chamber music theater performance, “Ain’t I a Woman”, honoring notable women for African American History Month. Her most impactful guest for me personally was an LGBTRQ+ History Month speaker, Steve Rothaus, a renowned reporter in South Florida who was among the first newspaper journalists in the nation to cover news in the LGBTQ+ Community for the Miami Herald. As an openly LGBT teacher, I was emotionally touched to hear his personal story about life during a time when I was a child first struggling with my identity. Without such connections to community elders, LGBTQ+students today risk growing up in a socially orphaned vacuum void of historical context. Ms. Kleinman celebrates diversity in her class in such a way that every student knows that have a respected place in school and can have a respected place in the community for their future. To take such LGBTQ+ affirmative stances is not always easy for a teacher, but by doing so she has taken a risk to remove social obstacles for our LGBTQ+ students and their liberty of expression in school.
Katie Lhotsky is an exceptional teacher in every sense of the word. She always puts her students first, showing concern for not only their academic growth, but their social and emotional growth as well. She is a dedicated and caring teacher who promotes student empathy and provides opportunities for students to engage in purposeful discussion about their lives. She challenges students to think globally, discussing issues that are important to students as well as important to social change. She has worked collaboratively with her Digital Academy team to ensure that students were given a meaningful education during the pandemic in a virtual setting. Miss Lhotsky consistently provides students opportunities to develop their voice and has created a positive environment that allows students to feel comfortable being their unique selves.
Al Piotter is an exceptional teacher because of everything he does for the students and staff at Trafalgar Middle school, as well as his continued support of our community. Mr. Piotter started a small garden led by students and volunteers and it has now grown into an enormous, crop producing complex, run by six certified Agri-Science classes and two hydroponic classes. Students plan, plant, maintain and harvest all the food produced by the garden,all while learning valuable agricultural skills. The community supports the garden through events like “Taste of the Garden”, where volunteers utilize fresh foods from the garden to create dishes for people to sample. The garden has produced over 32 tons of food for use in our school kitchen as well as providing food for our local soup kitchen and for those in need. We are fortunate to have dedicated teachers, community members, parents, and over 300students per year involved in this wonderful project. In addition to the garden, Mr. Piotter has organized and facilitated a program with Farm Share. Farm Share utilizes inmate labor and volunteers, re-sorts and packages an abundance of surplus food and distributes it to individuals,soup kitchens, homeless shelters, churches, and other organizations feeding the hungry in our community, all free of charge. Farm Share provides food to hundreds of non-profit organizations that serve more than 1 million families each year with 23.4 million pounds of food. More than 15 million pounds of fresh and nutritious fruits and vegetables are trucked each year to participating community groups throughout Florida. Mr. Piotter organizes “food pantry”events that are led by students to assist in distributing the food to those in need. Students unload the trucks, box up the food and distribute it in a conveyor belt like fashion to people lined up in their vehicles at our school. The students are invested in the food pantry events and are able to attain a sense of pride and compassion while supporting those in need that live in our community. Mr. Piotter has created the Builder’s Club at Trafalgar Middle school. The Builder’s Club looks for areas in need,allows the students to devise a plan to support that need and then encourages the students to organize and implement the event. Some of the many events they have hosted are, canned food drives, donating the food to the local soup kitchen and also having students donate their time serving food at the soup kitchen. Students volunteer to do community service events at local fireworks celebrations, host coastal clean ups to help clean local beaches and students even donate their weekends to ring the bell for the Salvation Army during their yearly fundraising efforts.The Builder’s Club hosts after school dances and school lock ins, then donates the profits to local causes in need of financial support. Community service is a key part of the Builder’s Club, they work to support Kiwanis Kid Fest,march in the Veterans parade, enter and support the Thomas Edison tree lighting event, support the burrowing owl festival and even find time to visit elderly residents in nursing homes. The Builder’s Club also fundraised through a variety of methods and the profits were donated to a small African village that did not have access to clean drinking water. The donation was used to dig and build a well that provided the village with a clean and reliable water source.Mr. Piotter and his various clubs have fundraised and volunteered to build Trafalgar Square, a large area on campus with a fountain, picnic tables, benches and foliage designed to attract butterflies. This area is maintained by student volunteers and provides tranquility to students and staff during the school day.
Mr. Royster, also known as Mr. Y Not, started Postive Movement Drumming to encourage and inspire young people so they may find a safe haven through drumming and dancing all while spreading a positive community message, showing leadership and decreasing gun violence in the city of Philadelphia. Tony realized that he wanted to do more – pursue a higher purpose. It didn’t take long for him to conclude, his two passions were drumming and contributing to his community. He envisioned a way to positively impact all the kids that reminded him so much of himself growing up and in 2011, he founded Positive Movement Drumming.
Erin Tiedeman is the Arts Department Head at her school and teaches online students at Westmoreland IU. She just was selected for the statewide award from PAEA (PA Arts Education Association) for Outstanding Arts Educator. She motivates her students to reach deep within to draw out their true ability, whether it be their artistic ability or their deeper analytical thinking of art in our history as it relates to the political pressures of the era they’re studying. Many students go on to pursue a career in the arts and send thank you’s back to her as inspiration for their achievements. She teaches the AP art program in her school and is the one responsible for bringing this difficult program into the school’s curriculum. Now other schools in the area ask for her help to bring the same program to their schools. I’ve worked with many teachers and she stands out, high and above them..
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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