Elmora School No. 12
Teacher of the Year
Degrees and Certifications:
Ms. Dawn Sandholm
Seventh Grade Teacher
Becoming a teacher has always been a childhood dream. A dream that developed out of the admiration I had for my second-grade teacher. I can vividly remember sitting in her class as if it were just yesterday; listening to her read a story, teach a word problem on the chalkboard, and working in reading groups at the table. At the end of the day, I would run home and couldn't wait to play teacher with my sister. It was my turn to be Ms. Kiernan. She was strict yet caring, which is what I strive for in my classroom. It is important to have routines, to build structure and rules and most importantly create a safe and caring environment with consistent classroom management. Just like Ms. Kiernan, I want my students to know that I want them to be successful and that I care about each one of them. If students know this, they will be engaged in classroom lessons and activities and motivated to perform to the best of their ability. As a teacher, you take on many different roles such as a leader, a mediator, a nurturer, a counselor, and so much more. By building a positive relationship with my students, they will feel a connection and learning outcomes will improve. I have always loved being around children and teaching has been my passion since I started in the classroom 25 years ago.
It is more apparent than ever that today's classroom contains a diverse set of children with varying strengths and abilities. Every student is unique and different in his or her own way. Because of this, teaching is both rewarding and challenging. It is necessary that teachers seek out innovative methods to reach children and expand their knowledge on every level. I believe differentiation and data-driven instruction is the key to success. When I create a lesson, I think of the various learners in my classroom and how I can effectively engage them. I attempt to make personal connections to draw the students. I ask students, "Why are we learning this? How is this going to help us in real life?" I will have students turn and talk to a partner and share their answers to these questions. This forces them to think of how the skill or topic we are learning can be applied to the outside world. Creating lessons that will address all learning needs of students is vital.
Educational Service Professional of the Year
Degrees and Certifications:
Ms. Vanessa Lambert Rodriguez
Speech and Language Specialist
Thanks to my parents, I’ve always aspired to be a woman of substance: independent and educated. With two older brothers leading the way, I knew I’d never go astray. In fact, my strong work ethic comes from my father, my ambition from my mother, and my devotion from my brothers; for that is the foundation on which my dreams were built. When I was younger and people asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?,” my responses varied but one remained constant: a teacher. Fast forward to my journey: what started as a road to becoming a teacher, ended in discovering my true calling in life: a Speech-Language Pathologist. Aside from my love of little humans, I’ve always been passionate about positively impacting the lives of others— add that to my love of communication (verbal and nonverbal) and you get a Speech-Language Specialist! What better way to honor my love of teaching and making a difference than to specialize in communication disorders. One of the most desirable aspects of my profession is the flexibility it offers from working in schools and hospitals to early intervention and private practice, etc. In the school system, I get to use my creativity and work with diverse populations. It’s so fulfilling to empower families and future generations. Being an advocate for my students is so rewarding. “The world needs all kinds of minds” and I embody that! There is nothing more satisfying than knowing you are impacting a child’s life... forever.
As a Speech-Language Specialist (SLS), I have many roles and responsibilities in the workplace. Most obviously, I am a direct service provider for students with special needs. However, that is only one of the many “hats” I wear in the school. As an SLS, I am a member of the Child Study Team and evaluate students when evaluations are warranted. In the event a child meets the eligibility criteria outlined in the NJ Administrative Code (6A: 14), an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) with personalized goals is developed. I directly impact student success by helping them achieve mastery in goals outlined in their IEP. For some, I help bridge the gap in skills not yet developed; for others, I help them find their voice (whether verbal or by alternate means). I am also bilingual and speak Spanish fluently, so I am often the link connecting our school to our families. Additionally, I provide bilingual services to students who need it. I feel my best quality is my bond with students. Establishing rapport with them is at the heart of everything I do so that connection is critical to success.