FLEMINGTON, NJ - After being named the 2019-2020 Hunterdon County Teacher of the Year this past summer, Therese Squicciarini, a special education teacher at J.P. Case Middle School, has been busy being an ambassador for public education.
Squicciarini is the first Flemington-Raritan School District (FRSD) teacher to be named Hunterdon County Teacher of the Year, since Adrienne Harley, a kindergarten and student support (K-2) teacher at Francis A. Desmares Elementary School, received the honor for the 2014-2015 school year, according to online records kept by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE).
The Governor's Educator of the Year Program promotes a positive school culture by acknowledging the hard work and dedication of outstanding teachers at the individual school, county and state levels.
“As Hunterdon County Teacher of the Year, it’s an honor to represent the exceptional teachers in the Flemington-Raritan Regional School District and those across the county,” she said during a recent board meeting. “It’s particularly honoring to see the title, ‘Hunterdon County Teacher of the Year,’ attached to the Flemington-Raritan Regional School District whenever anything is written about me. Wherever I go I bring with me the philosophy and mission statement of our school district.”
Squicciarini explained a lot of what she’s been doing as a County Teacher of the Year “ambassador” to the Flemington-Raritan Board of Education at the Feb. 24 meeting.
The seventh grade special education teacher said that the cohort of 21 teachers representing all the counties in New Jersey have been through lots of training, tackling some of the most important issues facing today’s education leaders, whether that be finding equity in education, or understanding more about social emotional learning.
“I know we are all so grateful for not only everything you’ve done for our district, but everything you’ve done to be an ambassador, which is really an immense amount of work, and we couldn’t be prouder,” said board vice president Jessica Abbott.
Along with all the training, Squicciarini detailed many receptions, and chances to network and mentor that have arisen as a result of this honor.
“I had no understanding of the scope and sequence of this honor, and little by little, as I’ve been going through training and I’ve been meeting with the cohort, it has come to my attention how big an honor this is,” Squicciarini said.
Included within the ambassador role, she noted she has the opportunity to test out new state programs and lend feedback.
“It’s an honor, but it is also great to influence decisions that are being made about our future educators,” she said.
The board meeting was one of the many stops where she has been tasked with doing some level of public speaking, something she noted she has greatly improved and become more comfortable with ever since taking on the role.
This stop was extra special though, she noted in a telephone interview March 6, because she was recognized and honored for her achievement in front of the home crowd.
She loves the district as a teacher, she said, but FRSD carries added significance in her heart, because of what she has seen from the many quality FRSD teachers (K-8), who have educated her own three children, Nicholas, 24, Michael, 21, and Daniel, 17.
Squicciarini’s teaching career spans 18 years, with eight of them being in the FRSD. These eight years in the district came after she spent 14 years raising her children.
“I was a mother and a volunteer before I ever really taught in my school district,” she said. “(The school board recognition) meant a lot to me because my children have been through the education system in Flemington-Raritan. Well before I ever started working here, I knew the quality of the teachers here. I was so appreciative as a parent for that, and then when I began working here, some of those same teachers became colleagues. It means so much to me. Beyond the honor of having this recognition of being a really good hard-working teacher, my children were educated in this district and I live in this town, so I know how hard-working all my colleagues are.”
She is now working hard doing what many did for her own children in the same district.
As a teacher, Squicciarini favors exposing her students to real world learning, so they can begin building skills that can be used someday in the future, and realize why they learn to read and perform math.
For instance, Squicciarini and two other colleagues borrowed an idea from another district to start a weekly program with a coffee cart. Students put on their aprons and sell coffee and different treats to teachers.
“Our students run the program with our help,” she said. “We serve coffee and different treats. Our students serve the coffee. They make the change, and they deal with the money. We have an actual cart that goes through both of our hallways, and we have about 25 students involved in that program. It’s been very exciting this year because our students are doing real-life math, determining the cost of everything and adding up all the different prices. They aren’t making the coffee, but they serve the coffee to teachers. They are taking the coffee off the cart and handing it to them. It’s a real-life scenario.”
She also noted the students keep time sheets, and even wear aprons when serving. It’s a fun, practical experience that pushes the students to be social and build interpersonal skills, she said.
She also shared some more about her own teaching philosophy as a teacher who works with students who have learning disabilities.
“I work with many students who have failed in general education, and school is not a happy place where they experience achievements,” she said. “I really want to make students want to learn. I just want them to have a love of learning, and approach learning in a positive way. I want them to want to learn, and not view it as a negative and not view it as a failure, and really feel like their education is empowering them.”