West Side Educator Awarded Teacher of the Year

Rachel DeNofio, or "Ms. D," as she is known throughout the school, stands to the right of Mayor Jorge Elorza and among family, students, colleagues and education leaders after a surprise ceremony at Asa Messer Elementary School last week.

Among an exuberant crowd last Thursday, kindergarten teacher Rachel DeNofio of Asa Messer Elementary School on Westminster Street was honored as the City of Providence's 2018 Teacher of the Year. The school-wide surprise announcement and celebration included students and faculty along with Mayor Jorge Elorza, education leaders, and city and school officials.

Each year the Providence Public School District recognizes an outstanding teacher who is "a master in instructional delivery; able to inspire students from all backgrounds and with multiple learning abilities; respected by students, parents and peers; and who is a leader and model among colleagues," as stipulated in its nomination criteria.

A parent speaker at the ceremony whose son experienced Ms. DeNofio's teaching mastery first hand shared their story. Her son struggled in his first days of kindergarten last September soon after being diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder. This bright student was highly advanced in areas like mathematics, but struggled with emotional regulation and weak motor skills.

"Ms. D tailored a learning program specifically for him, ensuring he would be intellectually challenged while patiently working with him in the areas in which he was behind his peers," she told the crowd. "It was only a few months into the year when, out of the blue, [my son] requested for me to buy him a shirt that says, 'I love school.' It was then that I realized that everything was going to be alright."

A second grader, reading from a letter she wrote in support of her former teacher's nomination, gave her perspective, "I think Ms. D should be Teacher of the Year because she is caring. When you get in trouble she'll be stern but gentle....If she sees something wrong with how you're writing or how you're reading, she'll help you with it until you get it right."

But DeNofio's contributions as a model educator reach beyond her classroom and students. An early adopter of blended learning and differentiation techniques, DeNofio has been recognized as the leader of a Lighthouse Classroom by the Highlander Institute’s blended learning professional development program. Blended learning uses technology to support personalized instruction in the classroom, and allows for more face-to-face time and small group interaction between teachers and students.

In her role as a Lighthouse Classroom teacher, DeNofio opens the doors of her classroom to visiting educators and school leaders from across the city and state – from Warwick, Providence, East Providence, Cumberland, Johnston, Cranston, even Fall River, MA, this year – who seek to observe and learn the best in blended learning practices.

Rachel DeNofio has been teaching for 11 years at Asa Messer Elementary and for 18 years in the Providence Public School District. This was her second time being nominated for this honor.

Two years ago, Asa Messer Elementary School was honored with Principal Denise Missry-Milburn winning the award for Rhode Island Principal of the Year. WBNA congratulates Ms. DeNofio and Asa Messer teachers and administrators for their commitment and great work in cultivating a vibrant neighborhood school on Providence's west side.

For more information about Asa Messer Elementary School or to schedule a tour, contact asamesserpta@gmail.com or visit the Asa Messer Facebook page (@asamesserpta). You can also learn more about neighborhood schools at our West Side Kids Committee's annual Conversation About West Side Public Schools taking place this year on Tuesday, December 4, 2018, at 6pm.


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