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Meet Connecticut's New 2019 Teacher of the Year: Bridgeport Music Teacher Sheena Graham
Bridgeport's Sheena Graham is named 2019 Connecticut Teacher of the Year.
October 16, 2018
CEA member Sheena Graham, a performing arts and choir teacher at Bridgeport's Harding High School, has been named Connecticut's 2019 Teacher of the Year. Along with her colleagues and students gathered in the school's media center this morning, CEA President Jeff Leake and Vice President Tom Nicholas were on hand to congratulate Graham as the announcement was made to resounding applause.
"Sheena is a truly generous educator who has high expectations for her students and is passionate about reaching each and every one of them," said Leake. "Her commitment to her students and her willingness to challenge herself represent all that is great in the teaching profession. Sheena instills compassion and empathy, making sure her students understand the need to take care of themselves, one another, and their community."
Graham, who has begun her 36th year of teaching in Bridgeport, has taught choir, theater, piano, and performing arts at both Harding High School and Central High School. She was chosen from among four finalists, 15 semifinalists, and more than 100 district-level teachers of the year.
Congratulating Graham are Bridgeport Education Association President Gary Peluchette, and CEA Vice President Tom Nicholas and President Jeff Leake.
CEA's Nicholas, who was part of the statewide Teacher of the Year selection committee, said, "Sheena epitomizes what a great teacher is. It starts with love for your students and community, along with excellence in your craft and knowledge of your subject area. Sheena goes even further, teaching that compassion and caring are some of the greatest gifts you can give to humanity."
"My greatest contribution to students today is providing them with opportunities, through music, to discover their passions, develop their voice, create community connections, and see that they have the ability to impact others positively," said Graham. "Yes, I teach music, but the more important goal for my students is to leave my classroom with positive connections to life."
The importance Graham places on education has its roots in her family tree. While her grandmother could not attend school, she learned to read and always believed that literacy and education were the foundation for achieving dreams. Graham's aunt, a teacher, nurtured her desire to be a great educator, and her parents taught her that applying the knowledge she gained through education would always be the most valuable tool she possessed.
"Being selected as Connecticut's Teacher of the Year is not something I take lightly," she said. "My career here in Bridgeport has been spent working with some of, I believe, the most talented, creative, resourceful, and dedicated educators in the world. To represent you, along with so many more like you across the state of Connecticut, is truly an honor."
Graham directs her school choir, leading off the award ceremony.
She spoke to the many challenges teachers face every day in our public schools—issues which CEA has brought before legislators at the State Capitol in recent years—though she acknowledged, "These are heavy topics I will save for another time." She noted, "Today's educators continue to be surrounded by issues that must be addressed in order for us to offer students the best education possible, that is equitable. How do we create schools that are safe for students without them resembling prisons? How do we properly budget for education without bankrupting cities? And how do we re-engage our disengaged students?"
Graham's teaching career also has deep roots in the city of Bridgeport, where she has taught the parents—and in some cases, grandparents—of some of her current students.
In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Graham leads a number of extracurricular activities, including running a poetry club; coaching cheerleading, softball, drill team, and dance troupe; and providing free piano lessons and drama classes.
As Connecticut Teacher of the Year, she will serve as a teacher-ambassador for public education, working in an advisory capacity on statewide education issues, serving as a consultant to Connecticut's Commissioner of Education, and representing Connecticut at national education forums, National State Teacher of the Year Program planning and networking sessions, and meetings of the U.S. Department of Education.
Back in the classroom, Graham leads students in an exuberant, three-part, a cappella, African-style song that requires them to learn new vocal harmonies, rhythms, and a new language.
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Educators from every corner of the state came together at CEA’s first-ever teacher tailgate party this weekend at UConn football’s homecoming game. More than 100 teachers, friends, and family members enjoyed breakfast, music, a fan photo booth, and games of KanJam, cornhole, and ladder golf.
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There are those, including current U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who argue that spending more on public education doesn't lead to better outcomes. School finance expert and Rutgers Professor Bruce Baker begs to differ, and he has research to back his position up.
Teachers are a selfless group who choose their profession because of a love for children and teaching, not for any expectation of accolades or honors. And that makes those times teachers are recognized and have a chance to be in the spotlight all the more special.
Teachers have a lot to say on issues from their pensions to classroom safety this legislative session, which is why local associations around Connecticut are meeting with their legislators and making their voices heard.
Speaking to hundreds of students at Harding High School in Bridgeport today, Governor Ned Lamont encouraged his audience to pursue a career in teaching and be role models for the next generation of students.
Wearing #RedForEd T-shirts, several hundred Waterbury teachers showed their strength as a union, their dedication to their profession, and their value to the community they serve when they packed a March 7 Waterbury Board of Education meeting.
Community schools, minority teacher recruitment and retention, the opportunity gap, and school literacy were just some of the issues members of the legislature's Education Committee heard public input.
"Our students would only benefit from having more opportunities to learn about the culture, struggles, and contributions of African-Americans and Latinos throughout history," Waterbury teacher Sean Mosley told the legislature's Education Committee
"Teachers become teachers because we want to help kids," says Danbury building rep Lori Woodruff. "It's the same with our union—we are here to help each other. As teachers, when we're involved with the union we can do more to help one another."
Connecticut Education Foundation's (CEF) second annual Read Across America Reading Bus Tour kicked off on February 25, featuring a customized blue bus decorated with well-known Dr. Seuss characters and outfitted with bookshelves, benches, carpeting, and hundreds of new books.
At a public hearing of the legislature's Education Committee today, classroom teachers—along with CEA leaders and staff—gave powerful testimony urging lawmakers to address the crisis of violent student behavior in rural, urban, and suburban schools throughout the state.
Teachers, CEA leaders, and staff testified before the Connecticut General Assembly's Black and Puerto Rican Caucus on issues critical to teachers this legislative session. These issues included school climate, classroom safety, the persistent shortage of ethnic minority educators, and funding for public schools.
CEA supports sensible ways of assisting the state in its efforts to make up for decades of underfunding teachers' retirement, including the governor and treasurer's plan to smooth out the state's payments to the fund over a longer period of time and lower the investment earning assumption to a more realistic rate.
"We reject the idea of cutting our way to prosperity. That has never worked," said Connecticut AFL-CIO President Sal Luciano. His remarks came at a press conference yesterday where members of the labor community, including CEA, called on the state to adopt a pro-growth, investment budget.
Project Oceanology and New England Science and Sailing are partnering to offer "Sound Education: Working with NGSS and STEM in Long Island Sound". This is a FREE two-day PD event from April 5 - April 6 for teachers in grades 4-12, with overnight accommodations provided in Project Oceanology's waterfront hostel.
Legislation passed late in 2015 made many "tax extenders" semi-permanent, but there are still a few esoteric items that keep everyone on tenterhooks when, as once again this year, Congress fails to pass the tax bill by the end of the year.
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