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Four graduating seniors honor the high school teachers who influenced them

May 19, 2021
Black and white photos of Singer Family Award recipients.(University of Rochester composite / photos provided)

The annual Singer Family Prize recognizes excellence in secondary teaching.

Four high school teachers who mentored and influenced members of the University of Rochester’s Class of 2021 are this year’s recipients of the Singer Family Prize for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching, presented by the College in Arts, Sciences & Engineering.

A Rochester commencement week tradition in its 15th year, the award offers graduating seniors a way to honor teachers who have made a significant difference in their lives. Recipients of the award receive $3,000, a plaque, a glass sculpture, and $2,500 for their school.

Paul Singer ’66, ’17 (Honorary) and his son, Gordon Singer, support the prize through The Paul Singer Family Foundation. A virtual ceremony was held May 18.

Brian Magee ’09, associate director, Wilson Commons Student Activities, received the Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Learning during the ceremony. It’s given annually to a staff member who has made a significant difference in students’ educational experience through support, guidance, advocacy, and dedication. Magee was nominated by the Senior Class Council.

Here are this year’s Singer honorees, in the words of the students who nominated them:

Jeffrey Cleaveland, a science teacher at Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale, Maine

Nominated by Justine Drappeau (chemistry major)

“In addition to introducing me to the field of chemistry, the subject that would become the center of my future goals, Mr. Cleaveland went above and beyond to help me flourish and grow.

“I was a member of his introductory chemistry course my sophomore year and was determined to become the first student to receive a 4.0 GPA for the course. He saw this determination and helped me channel it into ways that would not only be productive for that goal, but also set me up for success in the future. He would stay after school with me and other students, teaching us the proper way to take laboratory notes, explaining the crucial components of a good lab report, and introducing concepts that were outside of the course curriculum.

“He incorporated an idea similar to what Rochester does with its peer-led team learning workshops. Students were encouraged to ask classmates who were ahead of pace to explain a concept to them or explain a part of the material that they were struggling with. I believe that this is where my love for teaching stemmed from. I enjoyed both helping my classmates and testing and building my knowledge through teaching others. I will continue to build it next year upon beginning my PhD with the aspiration of becoming a college professor.”

Carrie Fey-Daly, a social studies teacher at Williamsville East High in Williamsville, New York

Nominated by Zina Miqdadi (psychology major)

“I’ve always believed that the best teachers are those who demonstrate interest in the material they’re teaching and make education engaging for students; Mrs. Fey-Daly exemplifies this. She makes learning enjoyable and fun by tailoring her methods to the interests of students.

“During senior year of high school, I had been struggling with periods of pretty bad mental health and would frequently come to school visibly distressed. Mrs. Fey-Daly would always notice and reassure me when I was acting off. I knew she would cheer me up and help me feel better. She almost became like a second mother to me.

“To this day, I still retain so much information from her lectures and remember so much from the classes I took with her. She taught me that learning doesn’t have to be a pain. It can be fun and motivating. I have never had a teacher care more or do more for her students.”

Jenna Tremblay-Reilly, a performing arts teacher at Barrington Christian Academy in Barrington, Rhode Island

Nominated by Elena Robson (brain and cognitive sciences and music)

“So much of the woman I am I learned from Jenna. I had the privilege of working with her in plays and musicals my last two years of high school, but the impact she had on me in no way stopped there. I credit her with preparing me for college life at UR. She saw my gifts and eagerness to learn, and just kept giving me opportunities to grow.

“Through theatre, she taught me skills I use every day in organization, interpersonal management, and problem-solving. Since I graduated from BCA in 2017, Jenna has never stopped investing in me. She regularly checks in and eagerly supports me in every venture, in theatre and in life. She sees huge potential in her students, and her zeal for them brings out beautiful performances from each one, going far beyond what anyone else would have expected from them.”

Sharon Zuckerman was a social studies teacher at Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta, New Jersey

Nominated by Marissa Russo (brain and cognitive sciences major)

“Whenever I think about Sharon Zuckerman, I think of a candle. She was a person who could immediately light up a room and was extremely intelligent and bright.

“And just as a candle consumes itself to give off light or a good smell, Mrs. Zuckerman was someone who, even when suffering, gave off such a positive light and amazing spirit. Mrs. Zuckerman inspired you to love history, politics, and debating. Every day, she would come into class with music already blasting and immediately begin with a thought-provoking question to get us focused and fired up about today’s topic.

“One day, she informed us that she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. This obstacle did not break her, as she continued to be in class every day for the rest of the year. For my remaining years of high school, she stood by me and helped me deal with my stress and anxiety. I will never forget the time I ran to her house to ask her for help with homework, and when I got to the door I was greeted by a friend who was taking care of her. Little did I know, Mrs. Zuckerman had just endured a chemo treatment and was not feeling well. Despite this, she still fought her way to the door just to help me.

“She was also part of student council, and I’ve never met anyone more passionate, empathetic, and determined than Mrs. Zuckerman fighting for the students to ensure we had as much fun as possible. She taught everyone around her how to be a passionate person, a positive influencer, a great debater, a good mother, a kind friend, an excellent teacher, and most of all, how to be a light.”

Editor’s note: Sharon Zuckerman passed away in January 2021.

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