HACKENSACK, NJ -- Classes at Bergen County Academies are back in session, this year with a teacher who has been nationally recognized for her dedication and commitment to seeing her students succeed.

Donna Leonardi, who teaches Pharmacology, Biotechnology, and works individually with students on cell biology research projects, was named a Distinguished Teacher by the Department of Education in May. She was nominated by one of her students, Katherine Dai, who was recognized as a U.S. Presidential Scholar.

“I was extremely honored to be named a Distinguished Teacher by such a prestigious group,” Leonardi said. “I was very touched by the fact that my students nominated me. It is always interesting that one never fully understands the extent of the impact they are having on others.”

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Leonardi worked at Cytogenetics Lab at New York Presbyterian early on in her career and found the most joy in training technologists in laboratory protocol. In 1995, Leonardi decided to follow her passion for education and accepted a job as a teacher at New Milford High School.

Six years later she began her job at Bergen County Academies where she is now beginning her 18th year as an educator. Seeing her students grow academically and learning from hands on experiences is one of the most rewarding parts of teaching, she said.

“I am inspired when I see self confidence and self esteem growing in my students -- to me as a result of their research laboratory experience” Leonardi said. “I am also motivated by the idea that student learning is most meaningful when they are given some control over their domain of knowledge.”

With a new school year now in full swing, Leonardi said she is looking forward to providing a unique and authentic research experience in the laboratory for her students to develop their technical skills and for herself to see her students thrive and succeed.

“I am humbled to be in a position to motivate and empower my students to rise toward their  
individual potential and pursue their passion.” Leonardi said. “I strive to make my students feel their creativity is boundless and their ability to be innovative is limitless.”