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Four high school teachers receive Singer Family Prize

May 20, 2019
group of people posed for a formal portraitThe winners of the 2019 Singer Family Prize for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching, seated from left, Marquis Harrison '08 (T5), social studies, Frederick Douglass Academy in New York City; Georgia Lignou, social studies, William Cullen Bryant High School on Long Island; Debra Jones, chemistry and biology, Trinity Christian Academy in Addison, Texas; Melissa Carl, social studies, West York Area High School, York, Pennsylvania; and their student nominators, standing from left, Stephaun Ward ’19; Maisha Idris ’19; Dean of the College Jeff Runner; Dominique James ’19; and Allison Morningstar ’19. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Commencement 2019: This is one in a series of stories marking the 169th Commencement ceremonies of the University of Rochester.

Four high school teachers who had important influence on members of the Class of 2019 received the University’s Singer Family Prize for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching at a ceremony in Hoyt Auditorium on May 18.

A Commencement tradition for the past 12 years, the Singer Family Prize is given to high school teachers who have made a difference in the lives of the seniors who nominate them. Recipients are invited to Rochester and are recognized at a ceremony during Commencement weekend. They also receive $3,000, a plaque, $2,500 for their school, and travel expenses.

Paul Singer ’66, ’17 (Honorary) and his son, Gordon Singer, support the prize through The Paul Singer Family Foundation.

This year’s recipients are:

Melissa Carl, a social studies teacher at West York Area High School in York, Pennsylvania
Nominated by Allison Morningstar

Carl has been a social studies teacher since 1993—the past 15 years at West York. Morningstar was 13 when she met Carl, and the two forged a bond. Carl was her teacher and advisor, and her mentor when she began looking at colleges.

“As a first-generation student, Melissa Carl helped me identify strong research schools that met 100 percent of my financial need and heavily advocated for me to receive the Bausch and Lomb Honorary Science Award,” Morningstar wrote in her nomination letter. “It’s because of her and that award that I attended Rochester and had access to so many incredible opportunities.”

Morningstar is headed to Munich this summer on a Fulbright US student grant and plans to pursue a doctorate in neuroscience. She says Carl remains a “strong and influential presence” in her life, nearly a decade after they met.

“When I struggled with feelings of inadequacy early in college, she reassured me of my capabilities. She believed in me before I was able to believe in myself.”

Marquis Harrison ’08 (T5), a history teacher at Frederick Douglass Academy in New York City
Nominated by Hector Abreu and Stephaun Ward

Harrison graduated from Rochester with degrees in African-American studies and political science. He served as president of the Black Students Union, vice president of Students’ Association government, wrote for the Campus Times, was a member of  the Debate Union, and was an English teaching assistant. He also was a Take Five scholar.

The New York City native has been a teacher for 11 years and has steered more than a dozen students to Rochester, making an annual spring visit to the River Campus to “help convince them that Rochester is the perfect fit.”

Ward, a mechanical engineering major, says Harrison taught him “discipline, humility, how to be empathetic to others, and most importantly, my constitutional rights.” Abreu, a business major, was Harrison’s student in middle school and high school and says he learned “everything the University of Rochester has to offer” from him.

Harrison says he’s humbled to be nominated by his former students. “I’ve seen them evolve into amazing human beings and feel so proud to have attended their graduation,” he says. “Good teachers and mentors helped push me throughout my life. We must all pay it forward.”

Debra Jones, a science teacher at Trinity Christian Academy in Addison, Texas
Nominated by Dominique James

Jones has taught in the Dallas area for 35 years—the first 33 in low income, urban districts. “Despite this, she found ways to motivate us to care about science and think creatively,” says James, who received a degree in biomedical engineering and plans to pursue a doctorate in that field at the University of Texas at Dallas.

James credits Jones with providing her first true experience as an engineer in high school by supervising a yearlong project within the nonprofit organization Destination Imagination,” where teams work in groups of seven. “Mrs. Jones turned her classroom and office into our working space,” James says. “She bought craft supplies, wooden pieces, and fabric, and always had a full snack drawer for us when we spent long hours after school.”

She also taught James how to budget her study time. The two have remained close and often met for lunch or dinner when James returned home on break from college.

“Mrs. Jones has and will continue to impact my life as I continue on with my career,” James says.

Georgia Lignou, a social studies teacher at William Cullen Bryant High School in Queens
Nominated by Maisha Idris

Lignou could barely speak English when she immigrated to America from Greece at 19. But she earned a bachelor’s degree from Queens College, and a master’s degree from New York University before beginning her teaching career at Bryant High in 1997.

“She taught us the importance of civic engagement, our responsibilities toward the greater community, and the power of an education,” says Idris, an Edmund A. Hajim Scholar and first-generation student who graduated Sunday with a degree in computer science.

Idris says Lignou made her students aware of their power as citizens, the importance of community engagement, and the need to live sustainably and take care of the planet.

“Every day after classes ended, she would stay an additional hour and walk through each classroom to separate the recyclables from the trash,” Idris says. “She started doing this alone, but students formed an Environment Health Club and started joining her on evening treks through the school.”

 

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