By REBECCA HERSH
Instead of getting an apple from her sixth grade students, English teacher Alyssa Mondella got $500 from Applebee’s – for her students, and thanks to her students, at the John Adams Middle School in Edison.
Mondella was a winner in the Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar annual “Above and ‘BEE’yond Teacher Essay Contest,” which this year recognized the work and dedication of four top New Jersey teachers, Mondella being the only one from Middlesex County.
Students nominated their teachers by submitting essays at their local Applebee’s; in Mondella’s case, it was the Applebee’s on Route 1 south in Edison.
The essay theme was how their teacher goes above and “BEE”yond for their students, especially when tasked with navigating virtual learning during a pandemic.
A team from New Jersey’s Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar, operated by franchisee Doherty Enterprises, reviewed all the contest submissions and announced the winners at the end of May.
Mondella, particularly thrilled to have the money to use toward her classroom in the upcoming 2021-22 school year, expressed her passionate enthusiasm for her job.
“I absolutely love my job and connecting with students. Seeing their faces light up when they have an ‘aha’ moment is something I strive to do. While I do love reading and writing, I gravitated towards this specific profession because I truly believe it takes a village to raise a child, and I wanted to do my part,” she said.
Although she is unsure exactly how to spend her prize money, a safe bet would be on more books.
“I have been teaching sixth grade English for five years. One thing I tell my students is ‘To ignore or deny the existence of a group of people is to deny them their humanity.’ This is why we read diverse books. Stories help us connect with and understand each other,” she said.
Applebee’s spokesperson Alexis Paul noted that the inspiration for the now five-year-old contest came when the leadership at Applebee’s became aware of the fact that teachers often used their own money to pay for classroom supplies and resources.
“We wanted to give students an opportunity to nominate and recognize teachers who go above and beyond for them and their class, and we wanted to reward a handful of teachers with a sponsorship check to purchase classroom supplies. At Applebee’s, we’re committed to giving back to our communities, especially to schools and youth organizations who are pillars in the communities we serve,” she said.
The teachers not only received the $500 grant but also were treated with their choice of an end-of-year party at Applebee’s or in-classroom celebration. And the icing on the cake for those students who took the time to write essays was a free ice cream certificate.
Some would say this contest provides food for thought and food for fun. Applebee’s just looks at it as a creative way to “give a little back to our schools and to recognize the great teachers that work in them,” Paul said.