NJCTE Educator of the Year and High School Writing Contest Award Winners Honored at New Jersey Governor’s Awards in Arts Education 2020

Talented educators and students from throughout the state of New Jersey were virtually honored on June 26 with the Governor’s Award in Arts Education. Usually held at the Trenton War Memorial, the 40th anniversary year was livestreamed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the annual New Jersey Governor’s Awards in Arts Education (NJGAAE), the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English honors an English Educator of the Year and the High School Writing Contest winners for their service and accomplishment in English Language Arts.  

Broadcast live on the NJGAAE website, YouTube, and Facebook simultaneously, the 40th anniversary awards ceremony was a gala event that opened with a pre-show virtual red carpet interview livestream hosted by student honorees and featuring various 2020 award winners. The main event opened with a slide show of award-winning visual art from New Jersey students. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy then addressed the attendees and celebrated the importance of arts education, noting that last year New Jersey was first in the nation to offer universal arts education in all of our public schools. This year, according to Governor Murphy, New Jersey is again first in the nation to incorporate climate change education into all of our K-12 standards. Governor Murphy congratulated all New Jersey teachers and students receiving awards in arts education. 

Past award recipients spoke about how the award has influenced them personally and professionally and answered the question: “Why are the arts more important now than ever?” The program featured performances from alumni and this year’s student award winners interspersed with short video selfies of each winner in multiple categories, including creative writing, dance, instrumental music, public speaking, theater, visual arts, and vocal performance.

Dr. Darlene Russell, Professor and Fulbright Scholar in the College of Education at William Paterson University, was honored as the NJCTE English Educator of the Year. Dr. Russell teaches undergraduate and graduate English methods, literacy, and educational foundation courses. Dr. Russell is the founder of the Nurturing Culturally Responsive Equity Teachers (NCRET) Research Project, which focuses on implementing a culturally responsive and pro-social justice curriculum in secondary classrooms. She is also the founder of My Sisters’ Nest, a mentoring group for female college students from underrepresented groups. Her research agenda orbits around critical literacy, critical race theory, and culturally responsive pedagogy. Dr. Russell’s acceptance speech was featured in the education portion of the livestream award ceremony. In her remarks, Dr. Russell noted that her parents were her first teachers, and though they never received an award, they taught her “how to care, how to love, how to listen, how to be heard, how to fight, how to persist, how to focus, how to labor, and how to lead.” Dr. Russell expressed appreciation for how the award recognized all aspects of her professional work with teaching and scholarship. “I am grateful and joyful for this honor, this award, and I will continue to live up to being the educator of the year every year,” said Dr. Russell.   

Three students were honored for their exceptional writing ability, as demonstrated through the annual NJCTE High School Writing Contest. Catherine Park of Bergen County Academies won first place in the poetry category for her poem “Today,” Caitlin Brannigan of The Academy of the Holy Angels won first place in the short story category for her story “Calamity of Freedom,” and Joyce He of Livingston High School won first place in the personal essay category for her essay “The Glory of Gym Class.” In addition to our own NJCTE awards for their superlative accomplishments, these individuals were also honored among the best of all arts educators and students in New Jersey through the NJGAAE. 

In the 2020 NJCTE High School Writing Contest, remarkable creative work was also received from Rikki Zagelbaum of Bruriah Girls High School, who won second place in the short story category for her story, “A Bucket of Youth and Boat Full of Dreams,” and Grace McGory of Pascack Valley Regional High School for her story, “Heart to Hart.” The short story category of the writing contest was organized by Beth Ann Bates. 

Outstanding work responding to this year’s theme for personal essays, “Hindsight,” was submitted by Alyssa Laze of Northern Highlands Regional High School. Her second-place essay was entitled “Saying a Prayer that’s Not Ours.” The third-place essay, submitted by John Jabbour of Morristown High School, was entitled “The Value of Impermanence.”

Finally, wonderful poetry entitled “Ninety one” was received from Katherine Vandermel of Bergen County Academies and won second place; Livingston High School’s Eden Quan’s poem “Golden Boy” won third place in the poetry category. Both the poetry and the essay categories were organized by Lynn Love-Kelley. 

Congratulations to our talented, successful educators and students! NJCTE and the state of New Jersey are very proud of you!

NJCTE Educator of the Year and High School Writing Contest Award Winners Honored at New Jersey Governor’s Awards in Arts Education 2020

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