SPRINGFIELD — School districts across the region participated in a rigorous process to select the winners of the 2020 Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Awards. The program, which is in its 18th year, celebrates outstanding educators who make a significant impact on their colleagues and school community. This past winter, the announcements were made in surprise visits — accompanied by balloons, flowers, and music — to the classrooms of 113 recipients across 30 school districts.
As plans were being finalized for the gala banquet to publicly honor this year’s winners, COVID-19 forced school closings and the cancellation of events statewide. Nevertheless, the award program partners — the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation and the Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation — took steps in this unprecedented year to ensure that 2020 winners were lauded and celebrated.
In early May, 96 teachers received prize checks of $500 each, and another 17 in the new-teacher category (those with up to three years of full-time experience) received $250. In July, each winner will receive an engraved plaque, free memberships to a local YMCA and the Springfield Jewish Community Center, and tuition-waiver certificates for graduate study at seven colleges and universities in the region, including a $10,000 scholarship toward a master’s degree at Mount Holyoke College. Other participating higher-education institutions include Elms College, Bay Path University, Springfield College, Western New England University, Westfield State University, and UMass Amherst.
“These wonderful teachers deliver truly superlative experiences to their lucky students each and every day,” philanthropist Harold Grinspoon said. “Our communities need role models and heroes more than ever right now, and each recipient of the 2020 Excellence in Teaching Award has proven that they display ideals in and out of the classroom that we can all be proud of.”
In addition, winning teachers were encouraged to submit plans for creative curriculum-related initiatives to carry out with their students, ones that adhered to the principles of project-based learning. In March, WGBH Boston and WGBY Springfield presented an expert-led webinar for Excellence in Teaching Award winners on the topic. From the many project submissions, 10 teachers were selected for an additional Classroom Innovator Prize of $250: Kayleigh Berger (Holyoke), Jillian Cook (Springfield), Karen Cree (Agawam), Michael Haas (Palmer), Qiana Johnson (Springfield), Samantha Morin (Holyoke), Victoria Munroe (Amherst), Angela Schatz (Mohawk Trail/Hawlemont), Sharon St. Pierre (Chicopee), and Joanne Weiser (Hampden-Wilbraham).
Additional supporters of the Excellence in Teaching Awards are Arrha Credit Union, Country Bank, Meyers Brothers Kalicka, Monson Savings Bank, and American International College, as well as the Springfield Jewish Community Center, the YMCA of Greater Springfield, and its five affiliate regional locations.
For more information about the 2020 Excellence in Teaching Awards and a complete list of winners, visit hgcf.org.