The three teachers selected this year as the Teachers of the Year in the Weehawken School District strongly represent the level of diversity that is found within Weehawken's schools.
The recipient of the Weehawken High School Teacher of the Year is science teacher Ed Monahan, who has spent the last 12 years of his life teaching the youngsters of the district about meteorology, setting up a weather lab at the school that is regularly used by local television stations for weather reports.
The top teacher at Roosevelt School (grades three through six) is English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher Natalie Ventrone, who has spent the last eight years helping kids of all different backgrounds and cultures to learn their new language.
The Teacher of the Year from Webster School (grades pre-kindergarten through second) is Jeannine Muneyyiren, who has spent the last quarter century instructing the youngest of Weehawken's students. Muneyyiren is now a basic skills-math teacher at Webster, instructing the students who need special help with their numbers to get a step ahead of the rest.
A science teacher, an ESL teacher and a math instructor - a perfect mix of the dichotomy that is the Weehawken school system.
"We have a wide diversity in the classrooms and each teacher we honored represents the diverse roles of our teachers," said Weehawken Superintendent of Schools Kevin McLellan. "Our teachers play an important role in the education of a child as a whole. These three honorees exemplify the widespread variety of education we provide to our students. They are all worthy recipients who have a real zeal for teaching. It's a very difficult decision selecting the Teachers of the Year, because we have such an able bodied staff throughout the district. But these three are very worthy."
The three were honored at the annual Hudson County Teacher of the Year luncheon, held last Friday at Schuetzen Park.
Stunned and honored
Monahan, who also coordinates the Young Science Achiever's Program at the school, where students receive research grants from companies like AT&T and Lucent Technologies, as well as helping to oversee the school's Peer Leadership group, was stunned when he heard the news that he was being selected.
"I was actually quite happy," said Monahan, who is also a Weehawken resident. "As teachers, we work hard, but we don't look for the recognition. But it's nice to be recognized for the hard work. We have a lot of great teachers in the high school. I'm just excited that it was my turn."
Ventrone said that she tries to make her students feel comfortable and that gives them the chance to want to learn English.
"These kids have a lot more on their plate, because they have to learn English while trying to learn everything else," Ventrone said. "I have to be patient and I have to be creative. I try to make it fun for them. Kids don't want to feel isolated. They don't want to feel intimidated, so it's a bit of a challenge."
Ventrone was also surprised when she was told by Roosevelt School Principal Tony D'Angelo that she was selected.
"I didn't expect it," Ventrone said. "I thought you had to be a teacher for at least 15 years or so. It was a very nice surprise and I'm lucky to have other teachers who are very supportive of me."
Muneyyiren, the elder stateswoman of the honorees, once worked with Ventrone at Webster School, so this was a reunion of sorts.
"I was happy to be honored with Natalie," Muneyyiren said. "She's a great teacher."
Muneyyiren said that she doesn't look at what she does as a chore.
"It's not a challenge," Muneyyiren said. "It's fun for me. I just reinforce what the teacher teaches and try to make it fun for them."
Fraction in action
For example, she recently taught her students about fractions by actually baking a cake.
"You need the measurements in the proper ingredients," Muneyyiren said. "A cup of this and a tablespoon of that. Then when you get the cake, there are fractions, cutting the cake into pieces."
Muneyyiren also teaches the students about money, by giving them play money from a bank that they can purchase items during the holiday season.
"They learn what things cost and what they can spend," Muneyyiren said.
All three teachers said that they liked being with all the other teachers in Hudson County at the luncheon.
"By being with the others who made it, it really inspired me," Muneyyiren said.
"It gave me more energy and made me want to try to do better, to live up to the title," Monahan said.
"It was an honor being there," Ventrone said. "It was good to see all the others who were like me."
McLellan was proud to honor these teachers.
"Without question, quality education starts in the classroom," McLellan said. "We hope that these teachers serve as role models to their younger peers. I bet that they have modeled themselves after others who they worked with and admired. We hope that the quality of education continues."
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or email@example.com