Announcing the 2023 NAFC Allies in Education Award

NAFC is pleased to award four local educators with the 2nd annual Allies in Education Award.  This award is given to local educators who are nominated by members of the NAFC Education Committee. These educators are recognized for the ways in which they have gone above and beyond to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the classroom.

 These awards were sponsored by four local Newtown businesses who are dedicated to investing in our educators to help make classrooms more diverse, equitable and inclusive. CT Affirmative Therapy, owned by Laura Becker and Christine Corrigan, “Supports a diverse population of individuals, couples, and families, many with marginalized and intersecting identities. Given the current political climate, it is incredibly important that we support educators who help their students feel seen and heard by fostering an inclusive school environment. Representation matters, as does having a trusted adult who cares.” CrossFit Hook’d, a CrossFit gym located in Sandy Hook owned by Ryan Berger and Alexa Calo. CrossFit Hook’d works hard to make sure that people feel comfortable in their own skin and want to support people who work hard to do the same. Owner Alexa Calo is also a Newtown teacher and many of theiri clients also work in education. CrossFit Hook’d wants to support and encourage those educators who are working hard to make diversity, equity and inclusion a focus of their teahing. Social Décor, owned by Marissa Rizzo and Sky Blue Designs owned by Nicole Powers. Each of these businesses were delighted to support local educators who promote diversity, equity and inclusion within Newtown Public Schools.

Connie Sullivan, 4th grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School, was awarded a grant sponsored by local Newtown business, CT Affirmative Therapy. Connie believes that there is no better job in the world than teaching. She loves spending her days with kids. Connie is also a Life is Good Playmaker. She works every day to bring the power of optimism to her students. Connie believes that every teacher should strive to be the type of teacher they would want their own children to have and that when it comes to DEI, educators cannot be silent. She believes they must create classrooms that celebrate diversity, equity and inclusion. Parents praise her for her willingness to sit with children and have hard conversations about race. She also includes literature from a diverse group of authors and makes sure that each child in her classroom feels heard and represented. This is the second year in a row that Connie has received this award for her work at Sandy Hook School.

Rachel Torres is a social studies educator at Newtown High School. Rachel received an award from local business Sky Blue Designs.  She teaches 9th grade Western Studies and the new 11th/12th grade Black and Latino Studies class. One of the ways in which Rachel incorporates diversity, equity and inclusion in her classes is by incorporating content that shows what is happening in the rest of the world. Rachel noticed that Western studies is very Eurocentric, so she makes sure that she educates the students about what the rest of the world has experienced. An example of this is while teaching the Middle Ages, students learn that while Europe was experiencing the “Dark Ages”, Africa experienced thriving kingdoms, empires and the gold-salt trade through the establishment of many civilizations. In addition to teaching Western Studies and the Black and Latino Studies class, Rachel is also the advisor to the Students Advocating for Diversity and Equity (SADE) club at NHS. Through this club students work hard to create a safe space for students to express their diverse experiences as well find ways to promote DEI at NHS. When Rachel found out she won the award she told NAFC that she was extremely humbled and feels that getting recognition for her work is rewarding in itself as it shows that her students appreciate her work enough to let their parents know how they are impacted. Rachel plans on using her award to take some extra professional development courses online this summer in order to enrich her instruction. She also is going to purchase more print and audio-visual materials for her classrooms for students to utilize.

 Sarah Wasley is the Library Media Specialist at Reed Intermediate School. She was awarded a grant from Social Decor. Sarah was acknowledged by NAFC for always working to include a variety of books, media and games in order to make all students feel welcome. As a Library Media Specialist Sarah feels as if it is a natural fit to include these items in the library. Sarah echoes the mantra that books are mirrors and windows for students. Mirrors for students to see themselves reflected in literature and windows for students to peer into others’ lives and experiences. Sarah stated, “I believe (in) an inherent need for all people to feel included and a part of something bigger.” Sarah plans on using the grant money to order new books which promote inclusivity and diversity. She loves the current Nutmeg list and the Governor’s Challenge Summer Reading list as a jumping off point. These lists include excellent books celebrating people from all geographic locations and life experiences.

 The final winner of the grant from CrossFit Hook’d was Suzanne Hurley. Suzanne is the Library Media Specialist at Middle Gate Elementary School. Suzanne worked tirelessly this year to promote diversity, equity and inclusion with the literature in the school library. Throughout Newtown Public Schools, the library media specialists purposely integrate DEI into read alouds and lessons, not only so that every student feels represented, but also so that students can have a window into worlds that they may not have first-hand experience with. When Suzanne learned that she had won this award she felt incredibly humbled. She states, “I know that all of the library media specialists work hard to create a safe space for our students and work to ensure that diverse viewpoints are valued and shared in our collections and lessons. So many teachers in Newtown are doing this as well, I am grateful to work with them to achieve these goals.” Suzanne plans on using the award to find some artwork or other visuals that would complement the library as well as promote diversity, equity and inclusion.

Congratulations to our winners. NAFC looks forward to expanding this award in years to come.