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2 Scholars Honored, Sen. McCrory Named Diversity Champion

The Alma Exley Scholarship Program honored two UConn students and cited State Senator Douglas McCrory as its first Diversity Champion in a virtual celebration on April 5 attended by more than 50 supporters, public officials, and educators including previous scholarship recipients.

Receiving scholarships were Saraya Lewis, a junior secondary English major, and Tamashi Hettiarachchi, a master’s student in chemistry education. Read more.

Saraya Lewis
Tamashi Hettiarachchi

The Alma Exley Scholarship Program honored Senator McCrory as its first Diversity Champion, in recognition of his accomplishments in advancing educator diversity in Connecticut’s public schools.

State Senator Douglas McCrory

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, a 1998 recipient of the Alma Exley Scholarship, congratulated Ms. Lewis and Ms. Hettiarachchi by video.

Dr. Miguel Cardona

Long-Time Advocate

Senator McCrory has long been an advocate for greater diversity in the educator workforce in Connecticut. He has been an eloquent spokesperson for educator diversity.

He has represented Hartford, Bloomfield, and Windsor in the State Senate since 2018. Previously, he served six terms in the state House of Representatives.

He is the father of important legislation to bolster minority teacher recruitment and retention. Last year, he led bipartisan approval of legislation implementing a variety of initiatives to promote greater educator diversity.

Zoom session brings together supports and public officials.

In 2019, as Chairman of the Education Committee, he was instrumental in crafting and passing legislation implementing the inclusion of African American and Latino American studies – first in the nation — and he continues to work to update and improve the state’s school curriculum.

Diversity Initiatives

Over the years, Senator McCrory has supported a variety of diversity initiatives. He was instrumental in:

  • The creation of the Teacher Recruitment Policy Oversight Council. The council is developing strategies for educator diversity and cultural competency instruction for teachers and future teachers.
  • Legislation ensuring fairness in teacher certification and to streamline certification of bilingual teachers.
  • Supporting a law several years ago to require school districts to hire at least 250 new minority teachers and administrators per year. Over the past five years, school districts hired more than 1,900 new minority educators.

         An educator for 30 years, he has served as a teacher and administrator in Hartford Public Schools and currently is in a leadership position at the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC).

 

Meriden High School Honors Nadine Rosa

Nadine Rosa has been named Teacher of the Year at Oliver H. Platt High School in Meriden for 2021-2022.

Nadine Rosa

Students ‘Bring Me Joy’

“I put my heart and soul into teaching, and it’s wonderful to be appreciated and recognized,” she said. “My students are the reason I get up every morning. They bring me joy. They make a difference in my life, and if I can make a difference in their lives, it will benefit not only them but all of us in the community as well.”

Ms. Rosa, who grew up in Meriden, began her career at Platt High School in 1995 as a paraeducator. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Southern Connecticut State University. The Alma Exley Scholarship Program honored her in 2004 when she was pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Saint Joseph, and she became a special-education teacher in 2007.

At least two other Alma Exley Scholars have been named Teacher of the Year at their schools, Desi Nesmith, when he was teaching at Mayberry School in East Hartford, and Ollie-Rubiah Williams Oliver, a teacher at the Farmington Valley Diagnostic Center.

Platt Principal Dan Corsetti presented Ms. Rosa with the award in a ceremony at which he unveiled a banner recognizing her as Teacher of the Year. He also read laudatory comments from her colleagues who had nominated her for the honor.

Nadine Rosa with the banner honoring her as Teacher of the Year

Promoting Equity

Ms. Rosa is a member of the Platt Equity Team and represents her school at meetings of an affinity group for educators of color in Central Connecticut. She is also active on the Ninth Grade Team, which supports students as they make the transition from middle school to high school.

As an active member of the Positive School Climate Club, she has taken the lead in posting huge hallway displays for the celebration of Hispanic Heritage, Black History, LGBT History, Women’s History, and Diversity Month. Teachers said the displays helped to create a positive climate in the school during the pandemic.

Display in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month created by students and teachers led by Ms. Rosa

The display for Hispanic Heritage Month features an image of U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, a former Meriden teacher and administrator. When Secretary Cardona was interviewed by a Hartford TV station, he arranged for the interview to be conducted in front of the display.

Secretary Miguel Cardona being interviewed in front of the Hispanic Heritage display

Financing Giveaways

As part of her efforts to promote a positive school climate, she used her own funds for giveaways to students such as T-shirts (which she made), books, and water bottles. Subsequently, the school system established a small budget to continue the giveaways.

Being named Teacher of the year has resulted in recognition for Ms. Rosa beyond the school. The Meriden Record-Journal interviewed her during Hispanic Heritage Month and produced a live Facebook interview.

One of the perks of being named Teacher of the Year is a reserved parking space in front of the school.

“I’m honored to be named Teacher of the Year,” she said, “and I’m grateful for this recognition from my colleagues.”

UConn Students Chosen as Alma Exley Scholars

Two UConn students have been chosen as the 2022 Alma Exley Scholars. They are Saraya Lewis, a junior majoring in secondary English education, and Tamashi Hettiarachchi, who is pursuing a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. She majored in chemistry education as an undergraduate at UConn.

The program was able to offer two scholarships this year because of the growth of the endowment at the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain. The growth was achieved thanks to substantial contributions as well as solid investment gains.

Saraya Lewis

Ms. Lewis, a graduate of Stratford (CT) High School, is active in UConn’s Leadership in Diversity (LID), a student-led support group which promotes equity, justice, and diversity in education and in the community. She has studied the impact of the lack of diversity among teachers in Connecticut and how this has affected the way students of color train to become teachers.

“During this semester, especially in my Multicultural Education, Equity and Social Justice class, there was an emphasis on the lack of educators of color,” she said. “We learned that the biases of administrators and teachers toward young children of color severely impact the number of individuals of color who enter the field of education.

“These discussions were extremely relatable as I had only two Black teachers during my academic career before college. The conversations would always tie back into how we as educators can create safe spaces for our students of color in a society that is not always welcoming.”

As part of her LID activities, she participated in campus workshops on the school-to-prison pipeline and critical race theory. Sponsoring these sessions were the Connecticut Education Association, the UConn’s Neag School of Education, and UConn Community Outreach.

Ms. Lewis has extensive experience as a tutor for elementary and secondary students, and she is a team captain in Huskython, which raises funds for children at Connecticut Children’s hospital.

As a member of the UConn Future Educators club, she participated (pre-Covid) in STEM and literacy events at high schools in Eastern Connecticut. “These events gave us experience in school environments prior to applying to Neag,” she said. “For literacy night, we read to elementary-aged students in different classrooms. For STEM night, I led math activities with secondary students.”

The Neag faculty chose her for the 2021 Neag Hearst Scholarship in recognition of her outstanding achievements in the teacher-preparation program.

Tamashi Hettiarachchi

Ms. Hettiarachchi, a graduate of Glastonbury (CT) High School, has been active in efforts to improve science teaching and to bring issues of social justice into the science curriculum. She is collaborating with teachers in Connecticut and New York to identify justice-centered science teaching practices as part of a project funded by the National Science Foundation.

She has lent her talents to the Mentor Teacher Collaborative, which is increasing access to high-quality science teaching in Connecticut. She also hosts a podcast called NGSNavigators, which offers high-quality professional development to educators.

She collaborated with UConn faculty in the development of a curriculum based on the complex biological systems in a nest of two million army ants. In connection with this project, she was the lead author of a peer-reviewed article published in the National Science Teaching Association’s Science Scope journal for middle-school teachers. In a related effort, she co-designed and co-led a professional-development program for middle-school science teachers.

As president of Leadership in Diversity, she has strengthened the organization’s mission of supporting and encouraging future teachers of color. She received the Outstanding Senior Women Academic Achievement Award in May 2021 in recognition of high achievement in research and service at UConn.

These outstanding students join a remarkable network of Alma Exley Scholars honored over the past 26 years. Our honorees are making a difference as outstanding teachers and distinguished educational leaders at the local, state, and national levels.