courtesy of whs.westfieldnjk12.org
As part of an annual school tradition, four members of the WHS staff are honored with different awards for their exceptional work in both the community and in the school. The awards include the Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award, the Above and Beyond Award, the PTSO Teacher of the Year Award and the Robert and Linda Foose Memorial Award. On May 12, Principal Mary Asfendis held a virtual staff meeting during which she honored the winners’ hard work and impact on students both in and out of the classroom, and then announced the award recipients to the entire school the following morning.
The first award given was the Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award, won by Special Education Teacher Marie Trzepla. This award acknowledges a teacher who inspires their students and devotes themself to caring for their kids even outside of the classroom.
Trzepla said that she is able to connect so closely with her students because she sees herself in them and recognizes the difficulties of being a high schooler. She strives to make her students as comfortable as possible and hopes to instill a sense of work ethic in her students which will translate in the future. “I hope I’m impacting them in a way where they can get organized, and also in my empathetic nature so they can be understanding of others. If I say ok that I’ll give them another extra day to work an assignment, I hope they will be that understanding with other people in the things that they do,” said Trzepla.
The next award announced was the Above and Beyond Award which English teacher Nicole Scimone won. The Above and Beyond Award recognizes a staff member who goes above and beyond to make a difference in the life of a student either socially, emotionally or academically.
When asked about what she hopes her students take away from their experience in her class, Scimone explained, “I hope that my kids felt that they were cared about and taken care of in a very stressful time.” Scimone does everything she can to make students feel comfortable. She shared that she tries to “chit-chat with students across the screen and often ask kids their plans for the weekend.” Little conversations between activities or before and after class allow students to open up more and also provide her with a little more information about how her students feel, which can be hard to gather with remote learning. She also pointed out that she has been working on being more flexible and accommodating since she knows how stressful school can be especially during these times, and she thinks letting her students know that she is completely understanding and supportive of them has made the year easier for her students.
The Parent-Teacher-Student Organization Teacher of the Year Award was won by Molly Dennis for being encouraging, being a good role model and showing respect to co-workers, students and parents. Dennis hopes that her passion for teaching reaches each of her students and brings curiosity to them. In addition Dennis explained, “Any sort of personal connection [I] can make helps [me motivate my students],” which is why she tries so hard to get to know them.
Her efforts do not go unnoticed. WHS junior Amy Xiao shared, “Dennis always starts class with a smile and with lots of energy… You can tell that she cares a lot about our education; she frequently joins our breakout rooms to check up on us, and she always reassures us by telling us she’s available for help any time. She even holds study sessions over the weekends.”
The last award given out was the Robert and Linda Foose Memorial Award which recognizes an administrator or teacher who helps students achieve their goals. Guidance counselor Andrew Buckner was this year’s winner.
Maureen Mazzarese, Director of Counseling in Westfield, said, “Andy Buckner loves his students and makes getting to know each of them his top priority. He always tells his students that his door is always open and even in these hybrid days, his virtual door is always open. When he is not in his office he loves traveling around the building connecting with students. He will go above and beyond to support his students and their families.”
Winning any of the four awards is without question a major achievement and given the circumstances that these teachers had to adapt to throughout the year, many consider this achievement this year to be even more impressive. The Westfield Board of Education will hold a virtual public meeting where the recipients will be honored on Tuesday, June 1 at 7:00 p.m.