WESTFIELD – The Special Education Parent Advisory Committee (SEPAC) has announced the 2021 Shining Stars awards honoring educators and support personnel who contribute to the acceptance and success of Westfield students with disabilities.
SEPAC parent leader Rachel Bullock said this is the sixth year of the Shining Stars awards. In previous years, they have gathered at Westfield Technical Academy for a celebration to honor the staff members who were nominated by parents, families and students. “This year, we couldn’t do it because of COVID,” she said.
Instead, they distributed the award nomination papers through email and Facebook throughout the district, and asked that nominations be turned in by the end of April. In the end, 12 educators from preschool to high school were selected.
SEPAC members also decided that since they could not have a celebration this year, to surprise the staff at their schools with the awards instead. Over the last few weeks, they alerted the principals of the schools and contacted the families who nominated staff, and asked them to be on hand to present the awards, wherever possible.
“It was really very touching,” Bullock said. She said in all of the schools, the principals called out the students and the staff members, and stayed to watch the presentations.
Bullock said despite the extra work involved this year in gathering people at each school and pulling off the surprise, they did not want to miss a year in recognizing the staff.
“Especially this year, when our year was mostly remote, we still have outstanding staff members. If anything, this year was more extraordinary for them to be nominated,” she said.
Five nominations were received for staff at Fort Meadow Early Childhood Education Center.
Board Certified Behavior Analyst Kirsten Serwecki was nominated by parent Aminah Bergeron.
“She has been beyond helpful, informative and does her best to make sure you are in a good state. She has helped my special needs kiddo and I am just getting to know her. I can’t wait for her to meet my kiddo when it is safe to do so,” Bergeron said.
Fort Meadow teacher Kelsey Cottengim was nominated by parent Jacqueline Charland and her daughter Nicole.
“Miss C. is one of the few people whom I have met who truly seems to have been born for her job – she is intelligent, kind, compassionate, understanding, and intuitive. She has a keen sense of when a child is struggling and needs extra time or assistance. She stresses positivity and affirmation,” said Kelsey Cottengim.
Speech therapist Melissa Desilet was nominated by parent Angela Denno.
“I am nominating Melissa because she went above and beyond for our son Kaden this year. When we didn’t have scheduled meets for speech therapy she offered extra time for him on days that were missed or skipped. She was always so welcoming and patient and has such a positive infectious attitude. Our son has made major strides in speech because of her. Thank you Melissa,” wrote Denno in her nomination.
Teacher Sheereen Sloan was nominated by parent Dwan Osowski.
“She has taken time out of her busy schedule to email me or call me to discuss Paislee’s progress and give me advice on things that may help her to progress more, and not to forget IEP meetings and goals over the last 2 years .Over the past year even more so pivoting to distance learning and her learning how to do everything over the computer when technology wasn’t her strong point, just shows me how dedicated she is to her job and the special needs students in her class,” said Osowski, adding, “She has worked with my daughter tirelessly getting her to use her words and participate in class. She went from being non verbal to now talking in some sentences and asking others to play. I think the support and hard work she has put in with my daughter and other children makes her an asset to special education. This is why I would love to nominate her for this award! She truly is one of a kind.”
Remote Fort Meadow teacher Diane Paskal was nominated by parent Adriana Torres. “Mrs. Paskal is an amazing teacher. She is very patient and extremely likable. My son adores her and she is exceptional at what she does,” she said.
Franklin Avenue Elementary teacher Lindsey Ayers was nominated by parent Sarah Timmerman and her daughter Evelyn Timmerman.
“We would like to nominate Lindsey Ayers for the Shining Star Award. To say that she is an amazing and deserving teacher is an understatement. She goes above and beyond every day for all of her students and absolutely those with extra needs. She takes great pains to modify things as needed, take a step back when necessary, break things down, and come up with new and creative ideas to see that all she is teaching is accessible and understood by all learners,” wrote Sarah Timmerman.
“This year has been a year like no other; home learning isn’t easy for many, my daughter Evelyn included. Mrs. Ayers approached it wonderfully and did all that she could to help all students understand the material and succeed while making it positive and fun. She made sure there were visual schedules given to all of the kids, as well as showed pictures of the worksheets or anything they were working on. Those things were so important, since Evelyn thrives on having visuals and a clear cut set routine,” she added.
Paper Mill Elementary teacher Nancy Meneses was nominated by parent Aminah Bergeron and student Aaliyah Bergeron.
“She has gone up and above to help my oldest daughter succeed in classes. She believed in my kiddo, when my daughter didn’t. She has treated my daughter (and the whole class) as if they are her own! She has given me strategies to help better my child’s reading, writing and spelling. She spent additional time to go over improvement areas with me and Aaliyah. She has made my daughter feel excited regardless of the class being online, she has inspired my daughter to thrive and keep learning on days when she (my kiddo) wants to be lazy. She has taught my daughter so much and me as a parent. She deserves an award of a lifetime for being so great at what she does,” wrote Aminah Bergeron in her nomination.
Westfield Middle School seventh grade general education teacher Rebecca Wood was nominated three times, by parent Susan Malochleb, by the students in the remote Essential Life Skills class and their teacher Kathy Schabowski.
“I think that Ms. Wood is wonderful. She has so much information that she passes on to her students in a very slow and patient way. She explains all classwork and never hesitates to answer any questions, no matter how trivial. We all know how hard remote learning can be but she is able to keep the children involved and wanting to know more. In my opinion she has shown my daughters places they will someday hope to see with her stories and pictures,” wrote parent Susan Malochleb.
“I am the remote Essential Life Skills teacher for this academic school year at Westfield Middle School. Ms. Wood is the Social Studies teacher for the 7th graders who are remote, and we co-teach together one period. My ESL students and I would like to nominate Ms. Wood for the Shining Star Award due to her ALWAYS going above and beyond to support our special education students,” explained Schabowski.
Their students also weighed in on the nomination. “I love how Ms. Wood color codes our assignments so I always know what I have to complete. Mrs. Schabowski and us are in the green group. I also think the teachers are funny and we laugh a lot in class,” said seventh grader Karli M.
“Ms Wood always welcomes me to class and asks how am I doing,” said Jase Gonzales.
“When I have a question, I am not afraid to ask for help because Ms. Wood is always kind to me,” said Lily.
“I love that Ms. Wood is very kind and understanding, and she is also very helpful in class and has taught me a lot. I also like when she says hello everyday in class,” said Gabby Scottoni.
“I like that Mrs. Wood is always friendly and smiling. She always makes sure everyone understands what we are doing each day. I enjoy her class everyday,” said Antonio S.
Westfield Middle School remote teacher Kathy Schabowski also received a Shining Star award, having been nominated herself by parent Susan Malochleb and two students who wish to remain anonymous.
“This teacher is amazing. During this difficult year she has always been there for her kids. She has the patience and the smiles that keeps all of her children focused and moving forward. My children love going to class because of her,” wrote Malochleb.
“She is a very good teacher that teaches me everything like math. She makes me laugh and makes me understand that I can do anything. I just think she is amazing,” wrote the first student, who wished to be anonymous.
“I love the way Ms Schabowski teaches me. She doesn’t get upset when I don’t have answers and will help me with anything that I don’t understand. She has a lot of patience and I am so grateful to have her as my teacher. She makes me laugh a lot which makes class fun,” wrote the second.
Westfield Middle School special education teacher Chloe Bronson was also nominated by parent Sarah Timmerman and student Madelynne Timmerman.
“We would like to nominate Chloe Bronson for the Shining Star Award. She has been a big part of my daughter Madelynne’s life for almost two years now through the QUEST Program. She always goes the extra mile (and then some) for all of the students in her program. She really takes the time to get to know each student, and accepts and embraces them for exactly who they are. She not only works hard with them to overcome difficulties and deficits they may have, but also celebrates their many strengths and encourages them on all the progress they are making,” wrote Sarah Timmerman.
“I know in my daughter’s time with Ms. Bronson there have been many bumps in the road as well as many successes and she has been there not only for Madelynne, but also for me, every step of the way. She has always been there to communicate with me and has been phenomenal at making me feel like we are always working together as a team to figure things out and get over those bumps so that Madelynne can ultimately succeed. That has meant more to me than I can say. I really appreciate the fact that she knows my daughter,” she added.
Two educators at Westfield High School also received Shining Star Awards.
WHS special education teacher Anthony Ascolillo was nominated by Tanya Lyon and student Andrew Lyon, who personally presented his teacher with the award.
“In 2019 we moved to Westfield. Mr A. (was) the only teacher ever to recognize my son had a learning disability. From day 1, He stepped up and helped Andrew with all aspects of life including transitioning to a new school in the 10th grade. He taught Andrew how to advocate for himself and how to express his feelings. He helps Andrew on a daily basis with all his school work and helps keep him focused. Mr. A. helps Andrew work on past assignments. Andrew is finally comfortable having a teacher to go to, someone who will listen, someone who guides him, gives him excellent advice and helps,” wrote Tanya Lyon.
“During Covid, he would call and spend an hour or 2 on the phone, working on school work with my son. My son went from having almost no grades (from Springfield schools) to a C-B student. He even has had quite a few A’s. My son always felt defeated with school, but now feels so accomplished. If it weren’t for Mr. A, Andrew would have given up a long time ago. Mr. A has helped Andrew grow in so many ways and he is excited to continue his education with Mr. A until he graduates high school. He is the only teacher to step up and hear the cries of a struggling student, when no one else would listen,” she added.
Special education teacher Kerri-Ann Boyer was nominated by a family who wishes to remain anonymous.
“An amazing teacher. My child came from another school district and she welcomed him with open arms. We were told my son would never graduate with a diploma. With her guidance and support, my child will be a graduate of 2021,” wrote the family.