Anna Bernstein has spent 18 years teaching the youngest of Weehawken's students, the last 11 years of them working with the pre-kindergarten students at Webster School. Jake McNish has spent the last 14 years as a physical education teacher and the boys' varsity basketball coach at Weehawken High School. Jeanine Roberts is the nurse at Roosevelt School, where she has been located for the last 11 years, and she also teaches 17 different health classes a week there.
Bernstein, McNish, and Roberts are this year's recipients of the Weehawken Teachers of the Year award.
The respected veterans were selected to represent their schools, and they represented Weehawken at the annual Hudson County Teacher of the Year luncheon at Schuetzen Park last month.
Superintendent of Schools Kevin McLellan said that the trio of honorees represents the best of what the educational process is like in the township.
"We're very fortunate to have a faculty that is very dedicated to the subject matters that they teach," McLellan said. "We have a longstanding tradition of having outstanding faculty and these three teachers exemplify that excellence."
The nurse and the P.E. teacher
It's rare when a school nurse and a physical education teacher are recognized by their peers as the teachers of the year. In fact, it surprised McNish and Roberts.
"We have a lot of teachers here who do good things, so when Dr. [Peter] Olivieri [the Weehawken High School principal] called me in to tell me I was getting the award, I was surprised. We like to think that physical education is important, but you don't see many phys. ed. teachers getting recognized."
"I was surprised, because it's not often that a school nurse is named Teacher of the Year," Roberts said. "But here in Weehawken, nurses do teach. Not too many people realize that. When I was in school, I don't remember even seeing the school nurse, but now I teach 17 health classes a week, so I keep busy."
McLellan said the district recognizes the work of all teachers, regardless of what they teach.
"We never look at one subject as being more important than the other," McLellan said. "It's an honor and privilege for the entire administration to be able to administer the programs we do in Weehawken and have the faculty to respond to all the educational challenges that exist today."
Bernstein said that she was shocked when she received word she was getting the award.
"I was totally stunned," Bernstein said. "I never received an award like that before. With other teachers who have been at the school longer and with a new principal [Anthony Colasurdo], I just never expected it. It means a lot that it comes from your peers, because they know what to look for and see the qualities in you. This is like the cherry on top of the sundae."
Bernstein said she was thrilled to go to the luncheon and be with other honorees from all the different schools in the county.
"It was amazing to see how many teachers there are in Hudson County," Bernstein said. "You tend to forget how big it is. There must have been 500 teachers there. It was really a rewarding feeling. People are coming up to me and congratulating me and they don't even know me. I feel like I'm famous."
Bernstein said that she loves her job.
"Going into each year, you get a chance to touch the children's lives," Bernstein said. "The children adore you unconditionally and with such enthusiasm. And after a while, the kids love to come to school. I have parents who tell me that even when their kids are sick and have to stay home, they want to come to school. When they're this young, they all love school."
Bernstein also loves to watch the students' transformation.
"They come to school the first day not knowing much and incredibly, some leave reading," Bernstein said. "When they start off in kindergarten in September, they're ready."
Bernstein is such a Pre-K veteran that her first group of students will enter their sophomore year in September.
"It's pretty scary," she laughed.
Bernstein was also the driving force to have the district go from half-day to full-day Pre-K sessions. This is the second year for the full-day sessions.
"Seeing the kids the whole day gives us an opportunity to teach them more," Bernstein said. "It's not just nap time and snack time. They learn so much more as individuals."
Because the school went to full-time Pre-K, the enrollment for the program is now at an all-time high.
"We now have 70 students and it is projected to go higher by September," Bernstein said.
McNish said that he feels that coaching basketball and teaching physical education "are interchangeable."
"A lot of people don't realize how big and important physical education is now," said McNish, who brought the President's Physical Fitness Program into the Weehawken system two years ago. "We're trying to make a concerted effort to keep our kids fit and make them understand the importance of being fit."
Roberts said that she felt proud that another school nurse was honored.
"It was very nice," Roberts said. "I wasn't even aware that we were considered for the award, but there was another nurse who was there that day for the luncheon. It made me feel good that there were others."
"These three teachers are shining examples of what we want for our faculty," McLellan said.