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For immediate release: May 28, 2002

Contact: Jennifer Greenstein Altmann, 609-258-3601 or mailto:jlg@princeton.edu

Princeton honors secondary school teachers

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Princeton University will honor four outstanding New Jersey secondary school teachers at its 2002 Commencement June 4.

This year's honorees are: Helen Aslanides of Ridgewood High School, Ridgewood; Helen Bryce of Lakewood High School, Lakewood; Anne McCormick of Jackson Memorial High School, Jackson; and James Quinlan of Vernon Township High School, Vernon.

"In an era when there are so many concerns regarding the quality of our nation's schools, it's refreshing to be able to see firsthand the extraordinary competence of many of our state's classroom teachers," said John Webb, director of Princeton's Program in Teacher Preparation, which administers the awards. "The four teachers we selected from a pool of 94 exceptional nominees represent the finest that our schools have to offer."

Each teacher will receive $5,000 as well as $2,500 for his or her school library.

The four teachers were selected after an intensive review process which began in October when the principals of every public, private and parochial secondary school in the state were invited to submit a nomination with supporting information from colleagues, students and the nominated teachers.

A selection committee consisting of Webb, Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel, two Princeton professors and two external education professionals chose about a dozen finalists, and an observer visited each finalist at work.

Princeton has honored secondary school teachers since 1959. The University received an anonymous gift from an alumnus to establish the program.

Following is information about the honorees:

Helen Aslanides

Helen Aslanides teaches American history to 11th and 12th graders using the Socratic method. Her class operates as an intellectual conversation among students, with Aslanides providing primary source documents to fuel debate and interjecting thought-provoking questions. Students form their own opinions, learn to articulate them and take the discussion to heart. Debates about the issues raised in her class continue in the hallway and on weekends.

"Ms. Aslanides did not help us learn the history of the United States. She helped us understand history," said Rina Fujii, one of her students. "Instead of blindly memorizing facts, we tried to analyze history in its entirety."

Over a 37-year teaching career at Ridgewood High School, Aslanides has gone down some unorthodox paths with her students, and she always has found those journeys successful and edifying. "I learned to trust the motivations of students and to respect their curiosity and interests," she said. "I found that my confidence in them was not misplaced."

She also has helped students pursue a wide variety of interests outside the classroom by acting as coordinator for numerous groups and events, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Social Action Club, the Asian Festival, the Mediterranean Festival and a women's issues group.

When she is on vacation, Aslanides often travels the world to improve her scholarship, going to Hawaii for an Asian studies seminar, to Israel to take a course in Jewish studies and to Washington, D.C., for a summer institute on the Supreme Court. She brings those experiences back to her classroom. "Every student in her classes -- each one of them -- feels challenged and valued," said John Mucciolo, Ridgewood's principal.

Aslanides earned her bachelor's degree at Montclair State College and her master's degree from Columbia University. She has received the Governor's Teacher Recognition Award and the Ashby Award, the highest honor bestowed on a staff member at the Ridgewood public schools.

Helen Bryce

Students at Lakewood High School say Helen Bryce is the most demanding teacher they ever had -- and their favorite one. "Mrs. Bryce is known throughout the school as being, by far, the toughest teacher when it comes to grading essays. Very few papers make it through her fingers without being scarred by the many marks of the infamous blood-red pen," said Sarah Mahon, one of her students. But she went on to say, "Mrs. Bryce is the most inspiring teacher that I have been privileged to have in the classroom."

Bryce's high expectations for the students in her English classes have caused students to raise expectations for themselves. Kevin Houtz, a fellow teacher who has acted as a substitute for Bryce on occasion, reported that "students who were behavior problems in other classes were not so in Mrs. Bryce's class."

She has demanded much of her students not just in the classroom, but outside of it. Bryce requires the students in her English Club, whose members regularly attend plays and visit museums, to undertake clothing drives and volunteer their time.

Bryce has succeeded not only with students in her English Advanced Placement classes but also with remedial students. She has taught "Beowulf" to those having difficulty with reading and helped them to understand the character's struggles by comparing them to their own problems. "My real joy as a teacher has come from making beauty visible to those whose perceptions have been dimmed," Bryce wrote.

Bryce received her bachelor's degree from Trenton State College and her master's degree from Georgian Court College. She has taught at Lakewood High School since 1974 and won the New Jersey Humanities Teacher of the Year award in 1998.

Anne McCormick

When chemistry teacher Anne McCormick learned no pep rally was planned for the school's football team, which was heading to the state playoffs, she threw one herself - in a school hallway. In addition to streamers and balloons, the pep rally had a steel drum painted with the opposing teams' colors. McCormick imploded the steel drum to "Oohs" and "Aahs," then explained to the students how the implosion had worked, squeezing a quick science lesson into the frivolity.

McCormick is a master at injecting fun into learning. "I recall numerous lessons where Mrs. McCormick pretended she was an atom or an electron," recalled Jessica Prince, who has taken three of McCormick's chemistry classes. "She often acts out events in order to keep the lesson fun and intriguing."

Beneath the fun is a fervent commitment to her students. McCormick arrives at school before 6 a.m. and holds review sessions that have lasted until 9 p.m. She doesn't give up on students who are struggling -- she works with them until they understand the lesson. And she is there for students when they need to talk about personal issues.

Her dedication goes beyond her classroom. When she arrived at Jackson Memorial High School eight years ago, she took the reins of the chemistry program, designing new courses, modifying existing ones and training other chemistry teachers in instruction techniques. And she persuaded the district to upgrade the laboratory facilities at the school.

"Never have I had a teacher who has cared so much about her job and her students," said student Amanda Tricarico. "I walk into her classroom waiting to hear what she is going to teach me."

McCormick graduated from The College of New Jersey. She was named Teacher of the Year at Jackson Memorial High School in 1997 and received the Superintendent's Superlative Award in 2001.

James Quinlan

When industrial arts teacher James Quinlan told a classroom of students in a program for at-risk youth that he wanted them to build a sailboat, the students thought he was crazy. "He even admitted that he didn't know anything about building a boat himself," said Cheryl Hastie, one of his students. But that didn't seem to matter. "He came to class wide-eyed and enthusiastic every day as if we were on the verge of a great discovery. And we were."

Quinlan and his students spent three years designing, planning and building the 19.5-foot plywood and fiberglass sailboat. In the process, the students gained a real-world appreciation not just for the challenges of woodworking, but also for their geometry and trigonometry lessons. "Calculating the square area of an oblique triangle was no longer a meaningless workbook exercise," Quinlan said.

The students also researched the biology of marine parasites to select the proper hull finish, learned a new nautical vocabulary that included terms like "bowsprit" and "jib sheet," and read aloud from "Moby Dick" to plunge themselves into the culture of the sea. Once-reluctant readers were riveted by the book. "We discovered that learning isn't about memorizing facts or choosing the right answer from a list," Hastie said. "It's about discovering for yourself that what you know isn't as important as what you can find out, if you're willing to make the effort."

Quinlan has been teaching that lesson to students at Vernon Township High School for 26 years. He has taught students about engineering with a 40-foot model of the Eiffel Tower. He showed them how to make wood-and-fabric kayaks that the students then used for a trip down the Delaware River. He initiated a class in chair-making to teach workplace skills to developmentally disabled students.

"In his characteristic quiet and unassuming way, he represents the very best of what our American education system has to offer," said colleague Douglas Castellana.

Quinlan received his bachelor's degree from Kean College and his master's degree from Jersey City State College. Last year he was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame.

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