Caribbean teachers honored with FLAG Award for Teaching Excellence

2022 FLAG Manhattan Grand Prize Winner, Joshua Modeste.
2022 FLAG Manhattan Grand Prize Winner, Joshua Modeste.
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Trinidadian descendants Joshua Modeste from The Urban Assembly School for Global Commerce in Harlem and Persephone DaCosta from Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn were recently recognized by the FLAG Award for Teaching Excellence, founded by Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman.

The award recognizes and celebrates extraordinary public school teachers who inspire learning through creativity, passion and commitment.

The award is funded by The FLAG Foundation for Excellence in Education and by The Fuhrman Family Foundation. It is administered by co-presidents, Risa Daniels and Laura Twersky.

The FLAG Award announced five grand prize winners — one from each borough of New York City—who are “shining examples of the best in public school teaching.”

They are: Modeste, a science teacher at The Urban Assembly School for Global Commerce in Manhattan; DaCosta, a dance instructor at Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn; Anastasia, an English Language Arts and Social Studies teacher at PS 120 in Queens; Laurie D’Amico, a music teacher and marching band director at Tottenville High School in Staten Island; and Cheriece White, an art teacher at The Metropolitan Soundview High School in the Bronx.

They each received a $25,000 cash prize, and their schools received a $10,000 grant.

“Public school teachers are among the most important pillars of our communities,” Glenn Fuhrman said. “They make sacrifices year-round to educate and mold our children into the next generation of productive members of society.

“This year’s winners exemplify the best of the teaching profession,” he said. “The teachers we got to know through this process all put forth a phenomenal effort to create environments where their students learn and grow and it is an honor to recognize these individuals.”

Daniels said this year’s winning educators “proved themselves to be outstanding individuals who had a tangible impact on the lives of their students.”

“It is truly a pleasure to recognize them for their tremendous work,” Twersky interjected.

The FLAG Award for Teaching Excellence, which just completed its third year, received close to 1,000 nominations from students, parents, principals and teachers.

2022 FLAG Brooklyn Grand Prize Winner, Persephone DaCosta.
2022 FLAG Brooklyn Grand Prize Winner, Persephone DaCosta. Courtesy Persephone DaCosta

Thirty-five semifinalists were selected from the nominees and were required to complete a comprehensive application, participate in an interview process that included an interview with their principal, and submit supplementary material.

The $25,000 cash prizes for the winners are for teachers’ personal use. The additional school awards of $10,000 each are to be used for arts education initiatives with input from the winning teachers. (Arts education is an area that is often underfunded in public schools.)

There were also 10 finalists who will receive $10,000 for their personal use, and their schools will receive $2,000 each to use toward an arts-based initiative.

And 20 semi-finalists will receive $500 for their personal use, and their schools will receive $500 each.

An independent jury comprising education, community, and philanthropic leaders, including Dr. Betty A. Rosa, Commissioner of Education and President of the University of the State of New York, selected the winners based on criteria that emphasize the student experience.

Additional jury members include last year’s winner, Dana Monteiro; Thelma Golden, Director & Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem; Pam Haas, Executive Director of the New York region of Facing History & Ourselves; and Ashleigh Thompson, University Dean for Education of the City University of New York.

“I am so humbled and grateful to be chosen for this honor!” Modeste said. “I want to thank my school community and my students for continuing to encourage my creativity and use of Social Justice to get them excited about science.”

DaCosta said she would like to use the grant money to renovate the dance studio with basic things, such as ballet barres and dance equipment, and bring in teaching artists.

She would also like to establish a Community Dance Performance Troupe.

“I love that the school and myself are both awarded funding, because there is so much more to do,” DaCosta said. “This work is demanding because our children have lots of needs.

“If we can’t pour anything into ourselves, we get depleted and can’t give as much to others,” she added. “My goal is to make me better, to go into the next school year re-energized and ready to pour all that I can into our students.

“Thank you for filling my cup and making it easier for me to continue giving more of myself to our students,” DaCosta continued.

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