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Five Innovative NEA Educators Who Are Creating New Opportunities For Their Students

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Nicholas Ferroni
History Teacher, Union High School, Union, NJ


Not many public school educators have 23,000 Twitter followers, but not many have as high a public profile as Nicholas Ferroni, a history teacher at Union High School in New Jersey. In addition to being a dedicated classroom teacher for more than a decade, Ferroni has started programs such as “Practice what you Preach,” which deals with health and nutrition, and “Teach the Truth,” which advocates for more minority voices in history curriculum. This year, Ferroni was awarded the Upstander award by the Human Rights Campaign for his work advocating for LGBTQ students.

Nancy Burke
Instructional Paraeducator, Haverhill High School, Haverhill, Mass.

When she first asked permission to use a vacant interior school courtyard, Nancy Burke didn’t imagine a “salsa garden” with a variety of peppers, tomatoes and cilantro, or a “stew garden” of carrots, onions, and different types of potatoes. But that is what grows there today. The project engages more than two dozen special needs students whenever they are on campus. Burke says the garden is about more than just growing healthy foods. “The students and all the gardens are a focus of school pride,” she says. “They encourage students to identify with and be proud of their school.”

Wendell Tabb
Drama Director, Hillside High School, Durham, NC

Wendell Tabb has been drama director at Hillside High School in Durham, North Carolina, for nearly 30 years, and his award-winning international theater program is recognized around the world. But his proudest achievement is giving his theater students a place to develop their talents and the opportunity to shine on a national and global stage, from New York to Beijing and Los Angeles to Lima. In January, Hillside students were invited to Cuba as part of a cultural exchange program sponsored by the National Council of Performing Arts of the Cuban Ministry. Under Tabb’s direction, the theater program produces four plays each year in addition to productions performed around the world as part of Tabb’s International Professional Student Theatre Exchange.

Theresa Montaño
Professor of Chicana/Chicano Studies, Cal State Northridge

When Theresa Montaño first joined the faculty at Cal State Northridge, as a professor of bilingual education, her classes were packed with future teachers. A little more than a decade later, says Montaño, “I’m actually having a hard time enrolling students in my undergrad education classes. And it’s not just my classes, or my campus — this is true across the CSU system.” Montaño, along with other California colleagues won a multi-year grant from the NEA Foundation to develop a teacher pipeline program for ethnic minority students in the Los Angeles area. Montaño believes in revamping undergraduate programs so that faculty can help their students get skills and experiences in K12 classrooms as early as possible.

Reuben D’Silva
World History Teacher, Rancho High School, Las Vegas Nevada

Reuben D’Silva served his country as a U.S. Marine on active duty in Iraq. But now he serves his community as a world history teacher at Rancho High School in Las Vegas, Nevada – the same high school he graduated from 10 years ago.
“I have always believed in public service and I wanted to have a career in it. Being a the son of immigrants I was always told that it was a duty to give back to the country and community that gave us everything we had.” Silva helps to build a community around his school by being active in his local union, and working with his principal to help create a stronger PTA. When asked why he cared so much about teaching, D’Silva replied, “The best part of teaching is knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I am serving my fellow human beings.”

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