SAYREVILLE – Two educators in the Sayreville School District have been selected as New Jersey Exemplary Educators for the 2020-21 school year.
Lauren Bellina, a kindergarten and first grade teacher at the Dwight D. Eisenhower School, and Colleen West, an ASI (Academic Support Instruction) reading interventionist at the Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, were among the recipients of the New Jersey Exemplary Educators program. Both were honored during the Board of Education’s June 15 meeting.
About 90 educators received the honor during the past school year.
“Just to put that into perspective, we have almost 130,000 full-time classroom teachers in the State of New Jersey,” Supervisor Nina Obryk said. “Only 90 were selected and two of them are ours.”
The goal of the New Jersey Department of Education’s Exemplary Educator recognition program is to identify outstanding educators for special recognition, alternating between elementary (Pre-K to 5) and secondary (6-12) every year. For 2020, the department was seeking elementary educators (grades Pre-K to 5).
Exemplary Educators exhibit strong knowledge and skills, an inspiring presence and a positive impact on students, colleagues and the school community. The nominee must have a rating of Effective or Highly Effective on his or her most recent evaluation, according to the website.
To discuss Bellina’s impact on the district, Eisenhower Principal Scott Nurnberger had parents of her students describe their experiences with her.
“Where do I even begin?” one parent said. “You [Bellina] are truly an amazing teacher. “You think of all of it, you make learning fun for our babies, you push our babies to be the best versions of themselves. You are very deserving of this award. From the bottom of my heart, we love you so much.”
“The teachers in our lives have made an impact on all of us,” another parent said. “The exceptional teachers mold us into the people we are today. Mrs. Bellina is one of those exceptional teachers. She has not only made an impact on our children, but she has guided, influenced and taught the parents of her students so that as a team, everyone can work together for the greater good of the student.
“I’m speaking for myself, but I’m sure all the moms behind me would agree – she has made me a better mother,” she continued. “I thank you for your time and dedication to the BD (behavioral disabilities) program and our children. I wish all students in the district had the honor of being one of Bellina’s littles. I can think of no one else that is more deserving of this honor.”
A third parent spoke directly to Bellina while voicing her praise.
“I first met Mrs. Bellina a few years ago during an IEP [Individualized Education Program] meeting for my daughter who had been pulled from her inclusion class and was placed into the resource room,” she said. “We talked about her expectations for my daughter and the roles that were to be followed. After the meeting, I called my mother, being the overprotective mom that I am, and said ‘Mom, this woman has no idea how to handle my daughter. This is going to be a disaster.’ I didn’t like her.
“A month later and I was starting to melt towards Mrs. Bellina,” the parent continued. “Maybe she knew what she was talking about, although the phone call where she informed me she smothered my daughter with stuffed animals had me raising my brows. [But] once I realized what and why I hopped on Amazon to buy a weighted blanket for the house. I was learning from Mrs. Bellina now too. Two months later and I’d been replaced. It was all about Mrs. Bellina. We’d go to school activities and my daughter would wait by the door for her. As soon as Mrs. Bellina got there, Emma would take her hand and spend the entire night with her.
“This woman has an overwhelming amount of patience, love and understanding. I cannot imagine anyone who could do better than what she does. She has played such an amazing part in helping my daughter grow from the girl that bit the principal, climbed out windows and flipped over desks to the girl whose third grade teacher just said she wished every child in her class was like her. I cannot thank you enough, Mrs. Bellina, for the incredible positive effect you’ve had on our Emma. I really hope that you know just how much of an impact you’ve had on us, our children and our little girl over the past few years. We love you.”
Wilson Principal Timothy Byrne introduced a parent to speak about West’s impact on the district.
“I’ve known Mrs. West for a few years being on the Wilson PTO board,” the parent said. “I had the pleasure of getting to know her a little bit before she taught my son. From the PTO perspective, I can tell you she’s always been involved, she’s always at the event, she always shows her face, she always goes to support the kids. That’s just who she is. I can’t think of someone more deserving of this award.
“In 2019, my son was lucky enough to get you [West] as his third grade teacher,” she continued. “He is a very bright boy who needs a little bit of a push to really show his true potential. From September until March, the progress that I saw on him was phenomenal and you did so many positive things for him. I appreciate it so much. March came and then school ended [because of the pandemic]. They [the students] were devastated, they were terrified and you went above and beyond to show these kids how much you love them and how you understood how they were feeling.
“You made sure that you were on camera with them all the time. You read stories to them, you came to visit them. I won’t read this letter, but she sent a handwritten letter to all of our kids towards the end of the year and every time I read it, I cry. My son laughs at me because I cry every time I read it, but she loves these kids like they are her own and she is so deserving of this. I’m so happy that Justin got you as a teacher. Thank you very much.”