Princeton University will honor four outstanding New Jersey secondary school teachers at its 2021 Commencement on Sunday, May 16.
This year’s recipients of the Princeton Prize for Distinguished Secondary School Teaching are Mina Armani of José Martí STEM Academy, Jametta Clarke of Lawrence High School, Christine Lim of Pennsauken High School and Andrew Teheran of East Side High School.
The teachers were selected for the award based on nominations from public and private schools around the state. They each will receive $5,000, as well as $3,000 for their school libraries.
“While the pandemic conditions of the past year were very challenging for both teachers and students, the four teachers being honored this year excelled in providing the highest quality education possible for their students,” said Todd Kent, director of Princeton’s Program in Teacher Preparation. “Their stories are truly inspirational. The prizewinners are exceptional teachers because they transform and impact their students’ lives and their school communities. Though they have unique styles and teach in different subject areas, they all share a complete dedication to the growth, learning and well-being of the students in their care.”
The staff of the Program in Teacher Preparation, in reviewing the applications, considers recommendations from colleagues and students as well as evidence of the teachers’ accomplishments in the school and the community. The prize was not awarded in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and 15 finalists were selected from the pool of applicants from both the current and previous year.
The 15 finalists were visited at their schools by Rosanne Zeppieri, a member of the program staff. The winners were then selected by a committee chaired by Elizabeth Colagiuri, deputy dean of the college, that also includes Kent; Jennifer Jennings, professor of sociology and public affairs, Princeton School of Public and International Affairs; Stanley Katz, a lecturer with the rank of professor in public and international affairs at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs; and William Miron, principal of Millburn High School in New Jersey and a 1978 Princeton University graduate.
Princeton has honored secondary school teachers since 1959 after receiving an anonymous gift from an alumnus to establish the program.
Mina Armani of José Martí STEM Academy teaches advanced, AP and honors science courses in Union City, New Jersey, where students have historically been underrepresented in STEM fields. Yet Armani’s skill, motivation and high expectations have resulted in extraordinary success for her students.
“I attribute their great accomplishments not only to her passion for teaching, but also to the fact that she has that extraordinary ability to motivate students beyond any conceivable outcome,” said Nadia Makar, STEM supervisor for the Union City Board of Education. “We are very fortunate to have someone of her caliber on our faculty.”
“She works tirelessly as a role model and mentor for our students in our scientific research program, utilizing her years of experience in both industry and academia to provide the students the skill set they need to be successful as they embark on their own life journey,” said a colleague.
An adviser for gifted and talented programs, Armani has led students in winning local, national and international science competitions. She founded the school’s Chemistry Club and started a lecture series to invite professionals to speak with students and motivate them to pursue careers in STEM fields.
She also organizes Saturday science programs and invites middle school students to attend.
“The mentoring and preparation that I’ve received from Dr. Armani have played a significant role in my academics, and her encouragement has ultimately led to my pursuit of a Ph.D.,” said a former student.
Armani is a recipient of the Nichols Foundation Chemistry Teacher Award from the New York section of the American Chemical Society. She was recognized by Union City with a “Women Making Strides” award.
Jametta Clarke of Lawrence High School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, is known and celebrated for her ability to connect with others — and to get others connected. Whether it’s in her social studies classes, or in the hallways, or at school gatherings she has organized, Clarke acts as a bridge for her students, the school and the greater community.
“Ms. Clarke fully understands the importance of developing positive working relationships with all of the students in our school, not just the ones she teaches in class,” said David Adam, principal of Lawrence High School. “Ms. Clarke knows each individual student’s name that she encounters and shows great care for their well-being.”
Clarke coordinates a Black History Month celebration and co-coordinates a Hispanic History Month celebration, in addition to directing the school’s gospel choir, which she founded.
“Transformative as Jametta Clarke’s lessons may be, they pale in comparison with her ability to create meaningful events, not only for the entire school, but for the Lawrence Township community and beyond,” said a colleague.
“Personally, she inspired me to pursue a career in education,” said one former student. “She is everything I aspire to be as a teacher and a young adult from her work ethic, passion, kindness and the rapport she has with students and colleagues.”
Said another student, “I consider myself lucky and beyond blessed to have had her as my teacher, and to this day be inspired by how strong of a woman she is.”
Christine Lim of Pennsauken High School in Pennsauken, New Jersey, embraces a one-word teaching philosophy: Kaizen, meaning “continuous improvement,” in Japanese. In doing so, she promotes a culture of self-growth in her 9th and 10th grade English classes, where students actively engage in Socratic Seminars, spoken word poetry writing, and book club study to create a classroom family.
While Lim expects continuous improvement from her students, she also holds herself to this standard, said Caroline Steer, curriculum supervisor of the Pennsauken School District.
“As a result, Mrs. Lim is the finest example to her peers as not only an education leader, but as a kind and thoughtful human,” Steer said. “Mrs. Lim takes her responsibility as an educator to the next level.”
Daily Mood Check-Ins and weekly evaluations enable Lim to be attentive to her students' emotional well-being, though many are fully remote learners. To reflect upon their successes and their struggles, students write "Anything Journals” as a validation of their unique stories.
“The communication stayed within the journal, but the connection extended far beyond,” said a former student. “Your mistakes in the classroom had the context of your external difficulties, and you had trust in Mrs. Lim that she would consider it all in evaluation of your academic progress.”
As adviser for the Asian Student Association, Lim organizes the annual Lunar New Year celebration and an Asian Pacific American Heritage Month assembly, among many other social, cultural and charitable events.
Lim also invites Pennsauken High School alumni as guest speakers to assist her current students with the Common Application, college essays and financial aid paperwork, in addition to arranging weekly job fairs to empower students to take control of their future.
"My goal is to change nihilists into existentialists — to encourage students to gain a stronger hold in identifying who they are and who they want to become," Mrs. Lim affirms in her personal narrative for the award.
Walk into Andrew Teheran’s class in East Side High School in Newark, New Jersey, and you might be forgiven for mistaking it for a professional production studio. As a teacher of media and visual arts, he has worked with his students creating videos for the school district, public service announcements promoting holiday pet adoption for the ASPCA — and even a documentary on the Passaic River.
“When visitors come to East Side, and a school tour is planned, one of the first stops is always Mr. Teheran’s (or T, as students endearingly call him) classroom,” said Meg Murray, vice president of academics at East Side High School. “Visitors are constantly amazed, impressed and inspired by the projects that T’s students have completed. His classroom embodies the vision of what extraordinary teaching and learning should look like.”
Teheran explores the range of media arts in his classes, from podcasting to Claymation to digital animation to 3D printing. He encourages students to enter their work into film festivals and contests, with many winning national and international recognition.
“Despite having projects to do for East Side and the district, a class to teach, students coming into his room every day after school for help and to work with his mentorship on a personal creative undertaking, he still manages to have time for everything,” said a student. “Although I no longer have his class, I still feel like I can go to him with any idea I have in my mind of things I want to create or learn.”
Teheran created the school’s Media Arts Magnet Program and was a member of the New Jersey Department of Education's writing team for the state's new media arts standards. He is a recipient of a 2009 Apple Computer Distinguished Educator Award.