Citing those particular teachers who gave a little bit more than usual, Secaucus schools announced their teachers of the year. Michelle Rodrigues was named teacher of the year for Secaucus High School, and Lucille Wright for Huber Street School. Sean Sonnett received Clarendon School's Teacher Recognition award.
Rodrigues is a graduate of Secaucus High School and graduate of St. Peters College, where she earned her degree in Italian, Spanish and Business Management.
"I thought I was going into the fashion industry," she said. "I took business because I thought I would need it in that career."
Although she was born in Hoboken, Rodrigues grew up in Secaucus, attending Immaculate Conception School before moving onto Secaucus High School, from which she graduated in 1988.
Her proficiency in Italian and Spanish brought her back to Secaucus High School, where she taught part-time. She said she was strongly influenced by Anita Delvecchio, who developed the district's World Languages programs.
"Mrs. Delvecchio encouraged me to take the job," Rodrigues said. "That was right after college."
Rodrigues got her teaching credentials as she worked.
As a World Language teacher, Rodrigues teaches Italian in the High School/Middle School complex and is certified to teach Spanish if necessary.
Because she grew up in Secaucus, Rodrigues knows the families of students she teaches and has developed a strong bond with the students. Like Delvecchio before her, Rodrigues seems to inspire trust in her students.
Although Spanish has become the second most popular language nationally, Rodrigues said Italian is a local favorite, since many families still speak it at home - as did Rodrigues' family. The irregular verb and variety of verb endings makes Italian differ from English and adds to its complexity. Yet part of the reason for her being acknowledged is her ability to take the language study beyond speech and grammar and into the culture as well.
The students talk in Italian while in class, and though budget restrictions make field trips nearly impossible, Rodrigues does her best to bring field trips into the classroom.
"We did a full Wizard of Oz in Italian," she said.
She is planning a performance of Cinderella for the future.
These performances, of course, are conducted by her advanced classes, students who have been with her for several years. These students have moved beyond lessons in basic language to more subtle aspects of the language. They compete in the Italian poetry contest held at William Paterson University. But even her less advanced classes listen to Italian music and stories - these stories include Italian classic fairy tales such as Pinocchio, and masterpieces of literature by Boccaccio.
In naming her the high school's teacher of the year, Principal Patrick Impreveduto said she has affected in a positive way the lives of her students and their families.
"She is an individual that can be counted on when a job needs to be done, and it must be of the highest quality," he said.
Elementary schools recognize teachers as well
Huber Street School named Lucille Wright as its teacher of the year. Wright has been teacher in Secaucus for 28 years. She earned her undergraduate degree from William Paterson College, where she also received her master's degree in elementary education. Over the years, she has taught at various grade levels and even served as the librarian for Secaucus High School. She has been active in the PTA, Secaucus Education Association, and the Secaucus High School Marching Band. She is currently a teacher representative for the Huber Street School PTA and recording secretary for the Secaucus Education Association.
She is credited with instituting several technology programs and is the school's co-advisor of the KidWitness News Program, sponsored by Panasonic, as well as the audiovisual department and the elementary school yearbook. She has recently been nominated for teacher of the year by the Technology Educators Association of New Jersey.
This year, she instituted a sixth grade fine arts program that included sixth grade teachers and the art department, which resulted in cross curricular programming that included Ancient Egypt Day and Renaissance Day - projects made possible by grants from the Secaucus Public Education Foundation. She is also responsible for the school's greenhouse and the creation of the environmental habitat.
In Clarendon School, Sean Sonnett, who teaches instrumental music at the Clarendon and Huber Street schools, received Clarendon's Teacher Recognition Award.
Sonnett is a Penn State University graduate and has been an employee in the Secaucus school district for the past seven years.
The Huber Street band has over 100 students, and the Clarendon training band and ensemble band have more than 160 students.
"Mr. Sonnett has instilled in his students a love for music and has taught them to become fine musicians through his example," the award said. "His enthusiasm and dedication for all his students is manifested whenever a school concert is held in each school."
Principal Ralph Merlo calls Sonnett "Our Mr. Holland" in reference to the movie "Mr. Holland's Opus" because of his devotion to all who enter his music room.
"Sonnett has received the respect from his colleagues, his student and the parents of Secaucus," Merlo said, "because of his outstanding efforts and because he enriches our lives with his refreshing dedication to his students."