Last month, four University of Rochester graduating seniors were able to honor a very special group of people, high school teachers who had a profound impact on their education and growth as students and individuals. During the University’s commencement weekend, teachers Doreen Arney, Robert Collard, John Hathaway, and Theresa Sarkis Kruse were recognized with the 2014 Singer Family Prize for Excellence in Secondary Teaching. The annual award honors teachers for their significant influence on Rochester’s newest alumni.
All seniors in the College are invited to nominate a high school teacher for consideration for the Singer Family Prize. The four award winners received a plaque and $3,000, as well as $2,500 for their school. This year’s Singer Prize recipients also were invited to the University of Rochester’s commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 18, to watch their former students graduate.
“The Paul Singer Family Foundation feels strongly that while devoted secondary school teachers play a vital role in the intellectual development of American society, they often receive little recognition or acclaim for their endeavors,” said Gordon Singer, son of Paul Singer ’66, who endowed the prize.
Doreen Arney, English teacher, Pearl River High School (Pearl River, N.Y.)
For Daniel Gorman Jr. ’14, ninth grade English teacher Doreen Arney created an engaging learning environment where unconventional assignments, including a retelling of Romeo & Juliet through text messages, emphasized creativity and imagination, in addition to the basics of writing.
“Miss Arney delivered thorough, engaging lectures but also showed a true mastery of dialogic education, Socratic seminars, and other pedagogical methods that encouraged active student participation,” wrote Gorman in his nominating letter. “Most importantly, she always listened to us when we needed help.”
Gorman says that Arney’s dedication to her students was exemplified by the “Grammar Gang,” a group of students she mentored during lunchtime and afterschool crash courses on basic syntax, sentence diagramming, and SAT vocabulary. Still active today, the Grammar Gang has helped more than 100 students—from freshmen to seniors—master basic writing skills and prepare for advanced placement exams and standardized tests. “Miss Arney genuinely cared not only about her ninth-grade students, but also about anyone struggling with humanities homework, college applications, or standardized tests preparation,” Gorman said. “While I remember so much about her classes, I remember her unwavering dedication to her students most clearly of all.”
Robert Collard, chemistry teacher, Grand Island Senior High School (Grand Island, N.Y.)
Jonathan E. LoTempio Jr. describes Robert Collard as a charismatic teacher with a “knack for bringing students out of their shell and promoting a culture of success.” From encouraging his students to discuss the big ideas of science and its importance in everyday life to playing a wide variety of music—from Bach to Miles Davis—during lab periods, Collard taught his students both chemistry and culture. This style of teaching, LoTempio said, encouraged not only mastery of knowledge and success on exams, but broadened critical thinking.
Collard, a Rochester alum as well, introduced LoTempio to the idea of studying at the University. As a freshman, LoTempio returned to Grand Island High School to participate in an alumni panel and urged the district to adopt advanced placement chemistry into their curriculum. Six months later, the subject was added to the course catalog for fall 2011 and Collard spearheaded the new course.
“The bonds and the respect that Collard commands have been used as a way to encourage graduates to come back and share their experiences,” LoTempio wrote in his nomination letter. “The consensus between all disciplines and majors represented was that regardless of whether or not you study chemistry or science, a class with Mr. Collard is the way to prepare for college, and for life.”
John Hathaway, director of instrumental music, Mount St. Mary Academy (Kenmore, N.Y.)
After retiring from more than three decades as a secondary education teacher in Buffalo, N.Y., John Hathaway felt his time in the classroom wasn’t over. So in 2002, he approached Mount St. Mary Academy about creating an instrumental music program from scratch. For Rochester graduate Chelsea Hans ’14, Hathaway’s new marching band was a chance to be a part of program that gave her “amazing opportunities through musical experiences, travel, and leadership.”
Membership in the band took Hans from an uncertain freshman to a confident leader, in and out of the music room. Hans wrote that Hathaway taught her skills related to community outreach, management, and fundraising—lessons she carried with her to Rochester. “John had a profound impact on my life, as he does on everyone who passes through the band program,” she wrote. “He is truly an exemplary educator and an inspirational person.”
Today, under Hathaway’s tutelage, more than a third of the Academy’s students participate in the band program and it has earned a host of awards, including 10 consecutive Darian Lake Music Festival Grand Champion honors for the jazz ensemble. As the only all-female marching band in New York State, they’ve also been tapped to play at the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City, the OctoberFest Parade in Kitchner, Ontario, and at the first inauguration of President Barack Obama.
Theresa Sarkis Kruse, English teacher, Joseph C. Wilson Magnet High School (Rochester, N.Y.)
This May, Shamen Radcliffe became the first in his family to graduate from college and he credits Wilson Magnet High School English teacher Theresa Sarkis Kruse with giving him the encouragement and confidence to follow his educational goals.
During her time at Wilson, Sarkis Kruse learned that if students like Radcliffe could envision themselves in college, it would help them stay focused on choices that would ensure their success. She often walked her students to Rochester’s Rush Rhees Library to conduct research, but soon decided to organize fundraisers and apply for grant money that would offset the cost of bringing her students on tours of northeastern colleges. Radcliffe, who met Sarkis Kruse as a ninth grader in her English class, recalled that she was always there to assist with extra help and make sure he stayed on top of his course work.
“Mrs. Sarkis Kruse became not only my teacher, but a mentor and a friend,” wrote Radcliffe, who is now enrolled as a master’s degree student in social studies education at Rochester’s Warner School. “She inspired me to become an educator and help minority youth who are from underprivileged areas, like me.”