SOUTH KINGSTOWN, RI — In the shadow of school officials considering the closure of Wakefield Elementary School, a singular accolade this year comes with a kindergarten teacher selected to be ‘Teacher of the Year 2022’ of the district.
Rebecca Duff, a longtime educator at the school, learned of her selection in a surprise announcement last week when school students and other faculty gathered on the school lawn .
With the school on the district’s chopping block, the selection is also a reminder of the quality of education provided at Wakefield Elementary, several veteran educators said.
Safety, whether physical, emotional and social, as well as strong educational approaches have been her priority, Duff said, noting that she is saddened by the current plan to close this small school.
The job of a teacher, said Duff, 46, is very different today compared to her vision as a teacher-in-training at the University of Rhode Island. Keeping students connected on many other levels is important today, she added.
“If students don’t have a connection to school, to learn, to feel good, and to feel safe and supported, they won’t learn,” said the longtime South County resident who lives currently in South Kingstown and has taught at several district schools.
Today’s teachers must always monitor the social and emotional problems that children – especially young people – present every day due to issues unrelated to their schooling.
Duff also had this responsibility at the top of her daily classroom to-do list.
Each day, her class begins with a joke of the day to make people laugh, then she does a quick socio-emotional check-up by showing the children’s hands and fingers.
One finger for happy, two for sad, three for silly, four for tired and five for grumpy.
It helps her, she says, gauge what kind of day is coming and whether there are any underlying issues at home or elsewhere that need more attention than just checking in.
“You have to be prepared. You never know what you’re going to get,” she said.
Duff said she goes to school every day with the goal of connecting with her students to help them learn and feel safe at school.
Parent Kelley Young nominated Duff. She highlighted Duff’s understanding of individual children and concerns about students struggling in the classroom with work.
“Ms. Duff consistently provides a safe and nurturing environment for her students where they are allowed to make mistakes, grow and excel,” she said.
“I have four children, three of whom have had the privilege of being her student – one currently. For each of my children, she knows their learning styles intimately, including their strengths and weaknesses,” Young said.
“It’s truly amazing that her young students are making such progress in reading and writing throughout the year. My son came to his classroom with letter and number recognition below his grade level and thrived under his guidance,” said Young, also an educator.
“Not only is she a master of kindergarten content, but her teaching practices truly support the multiple learning styles of all students,” she wrote to school officials about Duff.
Duff’s colleagues also see the selection as a highlight for the school and its value to students.
In January, the school committee voted unanimously — with one member absent — to support a reconfiguration plan that would close Curtis Corner Middle School and Wakefield Elementary School in the next two to three years, displacing students from both to other establishments in the city.
Duff can certainly be called a shining example of Wakefield’s potential, said principal Coleen Smith and former Wakefield Elementary principal Michelle Little, who were both mentors to Duff.
“I’m incredibly proud of her,” school principal Smith said, adding, “She’s solution-oriented and stands up for her students all the time.”
She is knowledgeable about early childhood development and the academic and social-emotional needs of all of her students, Smith said, adding that Duff “works tirelessly to meet each child where they are and provides quality, engaging instruction.” for his growth and learning.”
The principal also praised her for collaborating with her colleagues on educational strategies, whether at her elementary school or at other schools in the district.
“I am so happy, but not at all surprised that a parent is nominating her for this award. She exemplifies what it is to be a lifelong learner and quality educator and I am grateful to having him as a member of our faculty,” Smith said.
Those kinds of comments came as no surprise to Little, also Duff’s mentor.
“She has a wonderful mix of heart and professionalism. She has always been committed to understanding and implementing best practices based on current research, particularly in the area of reading instruction,” Little said in an interview following the announcement.
“She uses multi-sensory strategies, making learning fun while supporting the teaching of language-based learning. She has always wanted to continue learning and perfecting her skills for the benefit of children,” she said. declared.
On hand for the announcement in the school yard was new Superintendent Mark Prince.
“As adults, far from our last day of primary school, we can always name our favorite teacher. Years from now these students will look back and remember Ms Duff,” he said.
“Not because she taught them AB-C or 1-2-3, but because she challenged and inspired them,
he said. “She saw the greatness in them before they knew it existed in them. Years from now, when they think of her, a smile will creep on their faces.