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Empire State Excellence in Teaching Awards

Statewide recognition
New York Teacher

Regina Zafonte believes all students should find their voice — and give power to it. “One of the best skills is to communicate effectively, make a claim, support it with evidence and articulate it clearly,” said Zafonte, who teaches 9th- and 10th-grade AP World History at the HS for Math, Science and Engineering in Harlem. Zafonte and Alyssa Scherer, a science teacher at PS 64 on the Lower East Side, were recently given Empire State Excellence in Teaching Awards, which come with a $5,000 check. The award was created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to recognize outstanding educators. “My school has a STEM focus, and my job is to get students to really care about the humanities and see them on the same field as STEM subjects,” said Zafonte. Her colleague Ben Zara, who also teaches AP World History, said, “We want students to excel academically, and we want them to be good, ethical decision-makers. Regina constantly reinforces that.” Scherer, the other honoree, is finishing her sixth year at PS 64, where she started as a teaching fellow. Many students at the Title I, K–5 school, live in shelters or doubled up with others in public housing. But Scherer has found ways to increase parental involvement, working with the PTA and after-school programs. “We have a movie night and a bingo night and a spring carnival,” said Scherer, who has chaired the parent/family engagement committee for three years. “Our families are not the traditional nuclear family,” she said. But Scherer has connected with them by making sure school activities are scheduled at different times and by asking what kind of workshops they want. Colleague Amy Stone said Scherer’s star quality was evident even as a student teacher. “I asked her to put together a lesson plan, and she gave me a comprehensive plan for a whole unit. No matter what you ask of her, she’s smiling and telling you, ‘Of course, I’ll get that right away.’” 

Related Topics: Awards & Honors