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Theodore Martinez Honored As 2018 Alma Exley Scholar

Theodore Martinez of Windsor, a student at the University of Hartford, was honored as the Alma Exley Scholar for 2018 at a reception on Wednesday, May 9, at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford.

Several previous recipients were on hand to celebrate with Mr. Martinez, Desi Nesmith, chief school turnaround officer, State Department of Education; Sacha Kelly, mathematics teacher at the Academy of Science and Innovation, New Britain; Dr. Miguel Cardona, assistant superintendent, Meriden Schools; Dr. Violet Jiménez Sims, assistant principal, Hartford Montessori Magnet School; and Orlando Valentin Jr., teacher at Casimir Pulaski School in Meriden.

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From left, Desi Nesmith, Sacha Kelly, Theodore Martinez, Dr. Miguel Cardona, Dr. Violet Jimenez Sims, Orlando Valentin Jr.

Dr. Sims, who received her doctorate from the University of Bridgeport in May, was the keynote speaker. Congratulating Mr. Martinez, she spoke about the need for greater diversity among educators, reflecting on her experiences as a teacher and in her current position as an administrator. Dr. Sims was honored as an Alma Exley Scholar in 2008.

Mr. Martinez was introduced by the newest member of the selection committee, Dr. Diane Cloud, who retired after a career as a teacher and principal and who currently works as a leadership coach and teacher trainer in local magnet schools.

Mr. Martinez is pursuing a Master of Education degree from the University of Hartford and plans to teach in an elementary school after receiving his degree in December. He has a Bachelor of General Studies, Human Services, from the University of Connecticut, and a Master of Science in Psychology from Southern New Hampshire University.

He grew up in Hartford and Windsor after his mother, Laura Martinez, came to Connecticut from Puerto Rico. He graduated from the Metropolitan Learning Center, a magnet high school in Bloomfield operated by the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC).

While pursuing his master’s degree, he has been serving as an associate instructor at Glastonbury East Hartford Magnet School, a CREC school. Long active in advising and mentoring youths, he serves as program coordinator with Youth In Action, a program of the Windsor Youth Services Bureau. He was site director of “4th R,” an educational program of South Windsor Parks & Recreation, from 2012 to 2015. And he has served as an advisor to the Windsor Police Cadets since 2003.

Mr. Martinez  joins 28 others whom we have honored over the past 22 years. They form an extraordinary network that includes teachers, principals and assistant superintendents. Many have been honored for their contributions to education and their communities.

Our selection committee is certain that he has a bright future as an outstanding educator.

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Alma Exley Scholars Share Experience at UConn

Students of color in UConn’s Neag School of Education are fortunate that their predecessors established an organization called Leadership in Diversity.

Almost five years ago, students formed the group to build a support system for future teachers of color at the university. It’s a mentoring program intended to give students the tools and networks that will enable them to succeed in their careers as educators.

Orlando Valentin Jr., left, and Justis Lopez, fourth from right, with LID Executive Board members, LID alumni and LID faculty advisors.

The organization recently held its third annual conference on the Storrs campus, and two Alma Exley Scholars were presenters. Justis Lopez (whom we honored in 2015) and Orlando Valentin Jr. (2016) shared their experience and insights at the meeting. Attending, in addition to UConn students, were high school students, students from other universities, teachers, administrators and Neag faculty members.

Orlando Valentin Jr. leading workshop.

Valentin, in his second year as a fourth grade teacher at Pulaski School in Meriden, led an interactive workshop on the topic strategies for community building. He talked about the importance of fostering positive relationships across various communities in order to be an effective educator and, more important, a caring human. He sought to give the future teachers the resources and strategies that will enable them to build rapport across various communities from the classroom to the school, families and the community.

“Fostering positive relationships across numerous communities can have a lasting impact on students for generations to come,” he said, “and can break vicious cycles set in place by various institutions.”

Justis Lopez, center, sharing his ‘open mic’ techniques.

Lopez returned to UConn from the Bronx, where he is teaching social studies at Urban Assembly School of Applied Math and Science. His topic was “shifting the systematic paradigm through the open mic movement in education.”

Lopez is a pioneer in the open mic movement. Once a week, during a free period, students gather in Lopez’s classroom to express themselves at a microphone by telling stories, reciting poems, rapping, or singing songs. In the event at UConn, he led the students in participating in a mock open-mic program. Joining Lopez were several students from Manchester High School, where he introduced the program in his first two years of teaching before moving to the Bronx.

Afterwards, he drove to Eastern Connecticut State University, where he introduced more future teachers to the open mic concept.

Manchester High School students and teachers at the conference.

Valentin said he wanted to support the program because it had been so helpful to him as an undergraduate. He was one of the group’s first members when it was formed in 20xx. An especially helpful activity, he said, was the Mentor Dinner that he attended while working on his master’s degree. At the dinner, he was matched with Tyrone Richardson, principal of Betances STEM School in Hartford. “I’m grateful that the program gave me the opportunity to spend quality time with an outstanding educator,” he said. “Leadership in Diversity continues to provide a strong foundation for future teachers of color.”

Fairfield U Student Honored As 2017 Alma Exley Scholar

Chastity Berrios Hernandez, a senior at Fairfield University, was honored as the Alma Exley Scholar for 2017 at a reception at the Mark Twain House on May 3. Attendees included Ms. Berrios’s family, supporters of the Alma Exley Scholarship Program, educators from Fairfield University, and several previous recipients.

Four Alma Exley Scholars honored Chastity Berrios Hernandez with their presence at the reception, from left, Justis Lopez, Orlando Valentin Jr., Dr. Miguel Cardona and Chi-Ann Lin. Kaye Paddyfote, second from left, a high school student, spoke at the reception.

Keynote speaker Orlando Valentin Jr. offered an inspiring message, reflecting on lessons learned in his first year of teaching at Casimir Pulaski Elementary School in Meriden. Also speaking was Kaye Paddyfote, a senior at Conard High School, West Hartford, who shared her personal experience in making the case for greater diversity in the teaching profession.

Ms. Berrios was honored for her outstanding record of academic achievement and community service at Fairfield University.  She is an English major with minors in Educational Studies, Spanish, and Latin American and Caribbean Studies. She plans to teach in a public elementary school after earning her master’s degree next year at Fairfield.

She came to Connecticut from Puerto Rico at the age of nine with her mother, brother and two sisters. She devoted herself to learning English, did well in school, and graduated from High School in the Community, New Haven, in 2013.

At Fairfield, she has served as a Learning Service Associate at Fairfield University’s Center for Faith & Public Life. In that capacity, she has facilitated discussions on service learning among students at the university. She is also a resident assistant, providing guidance to 45 first-year students.

During her sophomore year, she conducted educational research in Nicaragua. And she has served as a teacher assistant at the Summer Institute for the Gifted in Princeton, N.J.

She has served as a Spanish interpreter, collaborating with nursing students in a fall-prevention program at a Bridgeport community center. Her rapport with the program clients was so exceptional that state officials chose to make a video of her work as an example of best practices.

From 2011 to 2015, she was a manager at a Dunkin Donuts in New Haven, working 15-20 hours a week while maintaining a full course load at the university.

Ms. Berrios was highly recommended by university faculty, who describe her as “deeply committed to becoming a change agent as an urban educator.” She has a strong commitment to community service, and she has demonstrated the ability to teach in traditional and non-traditional settings in two languages.

She is an activist focused on making a difference for students, especially English language learners. In her courses, she has been intent on helping her fellow students to understand the inequities of schooling in Connecticut, convincing some of her classmates to join her in working against racism and classism.