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Meet the 2015 Philadelphia Family A+ Educator Awards Finalists

We asked, you responded, and as we slowly start to think about another exciting school year again, the Philadelphia Family team is thrilled and honored to announce to you the 9 finalists in this year's A+

We asked, you responded, and as we slowly start to think about another exciting school year again, the Philadelphia Family team is thrilled and honored to announce to you the 9 finalists in this year’s A+ Educator Awards, our second annual campaign to recognize outstanding individuals in our local schools and communities.


Here’s how the contest works: our team read over 90 nominations, each endorsing local teachers, coaches, administrators, counselors, and tutors throughout our region who are helping their students thrive. We narrowed the field to the 9 finalists below. Throughout August, we’re asking you to vote for your favorite A+ Educator in one of two ways:


  1. Read the profiles of our 9 finalists and write an endorsement comment on your preferred winner below (worth 2 points).
  2. Vote with the click of a button on the form below (worth 1 point). It’s so easy!


Read below to meet the educators you selected as this year’s finalists. These are educators who, according to your nominations, are doing simply amazing things in their classrooms. They are connecting with children, inspiring great work, calming the fears of parents, and making a profound impact on the futures of our community’s most precious resources — our kids.


Voting closes August 28, 2015, at 5 pm. The winner will be announced at our Philadelphia Family Academic Evening event at Nest Philly on September 29, and will receive a $500 grant for their school or the educational charity of their choice.


Meet the 2015 Philadelphia Family A+ Educator Awards Finalists

Joanna Bottaro

Fifth Grade Teacher, Gen. George McCall Elementary School

Reason you went into education:
 I went into public education because I wanted to bring a love of learning to public school students who may have had limited access to academic curiosity and the sense of community that hard work and accomplishment brings.


Favorite way to engage with your students: I feel strongly that we all need to be engaged through multiple strategies, opportunities and resources. A developing student needs to explore who they are by not only being exposed to the academic subjects of Math, Language Arts, Science and Social Studies, but students need to be challenged to write purposefully as well as participate in thoughtful programs offered in Physical Education, Art, Music, Technology and Service Learning. I believe it is important to weave these disciplines into their experience with a wide variety of challenges, activities and field trips. There is truly no need for dull or wasted time in school. For me, its important that each day is planned well and allows time for creative thinking, individual investigation and collaborative learning.


Biggest impact your students have made on you: Each year as new students come to my classroom, I look forward to seeing how their personalities and talents will carry and transform what I am prepared to share with them. What they bring to me is the constant reminder of the resilience of youth and the joyful curiosity of learning with humor. By the end of each year, we acknowledge the impact we have all had on each other through a series of reflective activities and I am reminded that challenging myself to provide a rich education for them, although exhausting, rejuvenates me and my purpose as an educator.


Marisa Campbell

Nursery Class Lead Teacher, The Miquon School

Reason you went into education: 
Many experiences, including working with children as a Girl Scout camp counselor, majoring in children’s literature and identity development as an undergraduate, and exploring literacy learning, led me to want to become a teacher and propelled me to pursue graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania, where I earned at Master’s Degree Reading, Writing, and Literacy. I was passionate about the possibilities of literacy development and the power of inquiry-based approaches, and I was eager to engage with children around story, reading, writing, and identity. After two years working with first grade students, I began teaching nursery school, and fell in love with the delight and creativity of the children, and the dynamism of teaching through an emergent curriculum.


Favorite way to engage with your students: There is nothing I love more than reading stories aloud with my students. There are so many rich conversations around the text, questions to explore together, ideas that arise from the illustrations, and a rich discourse of wondering and possibility. As the year goes on, it is thrilling to hear them wondering about the author and illustrator, asking questions and responding to each other, and, perhaps my most favorite, revisiting the stories through dramatic play and writing their own.


Biggest impact your students have made on you: I have learned a lot of things from my students: how to listen closely and make sure I understand what they want me to know, how to slow down and really look at something, the importance of stopping what we’re doing to laugh really, really hard, the power of puppet shows, and the importance of going outside in the rain. The most important thing they have taught me is how to let go of my own plans, and follow their lead, to act as a co-conspirator in the process of learning, creating space and offering materials and experiences that will support their growth and understanding.


Diamond Edmonds

First Grade Teacher, People for People Charter School

Reason you went into education:
Ever since I was a teen, I enjoyed working with young children at my church. Their energy and love for learning is what sparked my interest in pursuing education as a career. Teaching gives me the opportunity to be creative, learn new things, and impact the lives of many; not only my students but their families and our community.


Favorite way to engage with your students: My students move around quite a bit throughout the day; whether it’s a motion to help remember a reading strategy or a fun, physical brainbreak activity… we love to get moving! Movement keeps their bodies alert and helps stimulate their minds as they learn and apply new information throughout the day!


Biggest impact your students have made on you: The greatest lesson my students have taught me is to be a lifelong learner!  Their interests and ideas inspire me daily, and they motivate me to step out of my comfort zone. I am constantly open to learn and try new experiences for the sake of my students so that I may be able to share it with them and, in return, inspire them to do the same!


Jordan Foley

Head Teacher Ages 3-6, Children’s Community School

Reason you went into education: I was drawn to teaching while working as a photographer. I had a fantastic art teacher in high school and he helped me see the value in learning in a way that captivated me more than the traditional classroom setting. I wanted to understand how to help children see the world through art, music, and movement. Helping children explore the world in nontraditional ways is a very enriching experience for me.


Favorite way to engage with your students: My favorite thing to do is to physically get down and engage children on their level and their play. Students open up so much to you when you crawl around on the floor with them. They give you permission to enter their world. It’s on the ground and in their play where students develop the life long skills to question and engage the world around them.


Biggest impact your students have made on you: We are all partners in the learning process. Children have taught me to be calmer and more thoughtful. Students ask a lot from you, but they forgive your missteps just as easily. We should all be so lucky to be as kind and thoughtful as a four-year-old!


Gloria Jones

Head Toddler Teacher, Children’s Village

Reason you went into education: I started working with children because of my love for them. I have 5 children of my own, and I feel that they are a blessing. I really enjoy working with children because there’s never a day that goes by that they don’t make me laugh.


Favorite way to engage with your students: My favorite activity with them is music and movement. That’s when we get to sing dance and act real silly.


Biggest impact your students have made on you: Just seeing them blossom from one level to the next.


Meghan Leahy

Founder and Director, Leahy Learning

Reason you went into education: An English major in college, I worked as a writer and editor before finding my calling. A lifelong love of reading and a friend’s experience with his son’s learning issues led me into education. When I recognized the psychological complexities involved in the learning process, I saw a need for a new approach which includes the integration of counseling strategies. It has been a unique path, and for the last 16 years, it has enabled me to put my problem solving skills to work in a very meaningful way.


Favorite way to engage with your students: Positively, honestly, and with great humor. Education is important, but can be meaningless unless there is a shared sense of understanding. Life is too short to be joyless! A big part of my job is helping my students discover a new perspective and a way to press on; to take a difficult subject or process and empower them to find a way to master it. I also feel that to understand what we read and to give meaning to what we write, we need to be curious enough to experience and explore the world around us. To model this for my students, we work together on community service projects throughout the year.


Biggest impact your students have made on you: The motto at Leahy Learning is “the learning never stops”. My students have expanded my world and helped me to see how much possibility exists — how we are all capable of so much more than we often believe. I have had the great privilege of working with students over extended spans of time: many students whom I have taught to read have returned for help with their college applications or with the job search and I am always amazed and gratified by their progress and successes. We really do all learn from each other and we carry those lessons with us as we make our way through the world.


Sarah Osborne

Early Childhood Educator & Director’s Assistant, Olde City Day School

Reason you went into education: I was fortunate enough to attend a great school in my hometown of Norwalk, Ohio. The educators at St. Paul knew how to make learning fun yet challenging for all learners. More importantly, they had patience, were willing to go above and beyond to help you succeed, and they all seemed to genuinely care about their students. I’ve always loved working with kids and it seemed only appropriate that I pursue a career in teaching, where I could make a positive impact on children similar to the one that my teachers made on me.


Favorite way to engage with your students: I love to engage with my students through reading. I’ve always enjoyed reading stories to my students because reading gives you the opportunity to use your imagination, develop new vocabulary, and to learn about different topics. Nearly everything can be learned about through a book! I particularly loved bringing the books to life by using funny voices and exaggerated movements to engage my young learners. There’s nothing better than losing track of time while being lost in a great book.


Biggest impact your students have made on you: My students at Olde City Day School have made a profound impact on the way I view early childhood education, and they were the reason why I decided to continue teaching in this field. They have taught me the importance of having fun while learning, the importance of being silly, and to be content with steering away from what’s written on the daily lesson plan in the name of meeting the day’s learning outcomes. Sometimes you just have to let the students guide the day. They may be young, but they are often wise beyond their years.


Jennifer Quinn

Kindergarten Teacher, Christopher Columbus Charter School

Reason you went into education: I went into education because I enjoyed working with children. From an early age, I often spent my free time playing with younger cousins, babysitting, and working as a counselor at summer camps. Also, as a child growing up in a tough neighborhood, my teachers became the most positive influence in my life. I truly believe if that had not been there, my life would have taken a very different path. I wanted to be able to do that someone else.


Favorite way to engage with your students: My favorite way to engage my students is to find things that are relevant to them and tie it into whatever we are learning. Also, having a sense of humor doesn’t hurt.


Biggest impact your students have made on you: The biggest impact my students have made on me is they make me more self-aware. When I am teaching my students lessons, giving them advice, teaching social skills I have to take a look at myself, and see if I am practicing what I preach.


Josh Wittman

Director of Coaching, Soccer Shots Philadelphia

Reason you went into education: I love working with kids. They are energizing and an exciting population to work with. I hope to have a great everlasting impact on each kid I work with, both in sports and more importantly in their own life as they go through every season’s ups and downs.


Favorite way to engage with your students: Getting down to their level to help them see the impact of what they’re learning beyond sports. Such as understanding sportsmanship and teamwork can be and is apart of their everyday lives.


Biggest impact your students have made on you: They give me more energy than I thought I had, and excite me to becoming a dad some day.