New Jersey Department of Education

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Episode 14: Fast Break — Voices of Encouragement

Note: The audio versions of all episodes are available on the DOE Digest webpage.


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Dr. Lamont Repollet: I’m Dr. Lamont Repollet, New Jersey’s Commissioner of Education. Welcome to the DOE Digest, a podcast from the New Jersey Department of Education. It is a platform for information exchange, in which the Department will highlight the work being done by innovative and transformative educators around the state.

I have been working to redesign the Department of Education to what I call NJDOE 2.0. This podcast is one of the ways that we utilize our digital platform to help strengthen teaching, leading and learning, and increase educational equity for the 1.4 million students across New Jersey. I hope you enjoy today’s topic.

Ken: Hi and welcome to the DOE Digest. I'm your host, Ken Bond.

The last few weeks have been trying for all of us and what we wanted to do was use this podcast episode to amplify the voices of New Jersey educators from around the state. In the past, we’ve done what we call a “Fast Break Episode” between our main episodes. And we thought that this would be an appropriate time to do one of those fast break episodes.

We put a call out to educators to share with us either tips or encouragement or whatever they had on their mind, and you all did not disappoint.

What I want to do now is just play those clips for all of you so that you can hear from each other and just be encouraged. This has been a difficult time and it will most likely continue to be a difficult time. But we’re stronger together and we have such an amazing professional learning network in New Jersey.

I know that these recordings will be an encouragement to all of you. I hope you enjoy this. Thanks!

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Clips from New Jersey Educators

Lindsay Frevert, Teacher

Lindsay: My name is Lindsay Frevert and I teach second grade at Van Derveer Elementary in Somerville, New Jersey.

You are amazing. Right now, some of us educators are sitting here wondering, “are we doing enough? Are we supporting our students enough?”

I’m here to share with you that you are enough.

It is so important right now to also be mindful of your self-care. “What are you doing for yourself each and every day?”

There is a lot of new in our lives and it is so important that we don’t forget to take care of ourselves, whether it be going for a walk, reading a book, taking a bath, something for just you.

This is the time to use that growth mindset that we teach our students day in and day out. And for us to apply it to our own lives.

So again, just remember, you are amazing and you are enough.

Lisa M. Savoia, Ed.D, Superintendent

Lisa: Good afternoon. This is Lisa Savoia and I’m the superintendent for Keyport Public Schools.

I’m at my desk. It’s 5:22. What is getting me through right now, what’s on my mind, is the sense of community here in Keyport. What’s helping me is the teamwork that we have, whether it be the borough. Whether it be our parents, administration, staff. That’s helping me because any issues/concerns, they’re put to the side.

And what we’re doing best is making plans to support kids academically, socially, and emotionally. None of that is easy to do.

So if I would say to you in ending, what is helping me: working together and teamwork. Thank you.

Angello Villarreal, Teacher

Angello: My name is Angello Villarreal. I’m a teacher at Long Branch High School. My position is an ESL teacher. This is actually my first year as a teacher.

Something that my principal shared with me today was, “You are doing an amazing job.” And that really lift my spirit, especially these days. Right after that, I started sending messages to my students and they really felt so happy and they thanked me so much.

So what I would like to share is that little words of encouragement among peers and to students are really extremely helpful these days.

Lastly, never give up on any student. They all need to be pushed in different ways and it’s up to us to find out what works the best for each one of them.

Okay. Thank you so much and have a great day.

Lenore M. Kingsmore, Principal

Lenore: Hi, my name is Lenore Kingsmore. I’m the proud principal of Henry Hudson Regional School in Highlands, New Jersey.

I would just like to encourage all of my colleagues in New Jersey to try and do as many Google Meets as they can. The virtual experience of seeing your students and talking to them has, for me, been very worthwhile. My students loved it. I took down tips and suggestions for my faculty and I shared that with my faculty.

I also did a Google Meet with my entire faculty and we talked about how things are going and just connected. I think keeping personal connection is critical. I send a daily message and email everyday to my faculty giving them words of encouragement. I give them a quote of inspiration and also just give them support.

I hoped this help. Good luck through this difficult time.

Michele Stassfurth, Teacher

Michele: Hello. My name is Michele Stassfurth and I am a middle school mathematics teacher in North Plainfield, New Jersey.

This remote learning time has definitely been an adjustment for everyone, from students and parents, to teachers, counselors, and administrators. We could not possibly replicate real, face-to-face teaching virtually, but we can expect our kids to still learn and to grow as people in some positive way.

It has been helpful for me to remember that I want the students first and foremost to stay well physically and emotionally. I then want them to keep up some semblance of study habits and some sort of educational routine. This looks different for each student, but as long as they are in the habit of logging in, reading instructions, and trying their best while staying well, these weeks without classroom time will not be instructional losses.

Daniel Layton, Principal

Daniel: This is Daniel Layton, principal of Highlands Elementary School, a Lighthouse District.

These times are extremely tough for our students, families, and school community. Emotion health and well-being is needed now more than ever. It’s truly amazing to see the camaraderie of fellow districts, local organizations and our teachers, rise to the occasion for our students’ social, emotional, and academic needs.

Personally, I’ve stayed connected with my students to let them know how much they are missed through virtual messages, participating in interactive lessons, and other creative productions.

Words of advice: take the positives as a win and grow from the negatives. Check out Highland Elementary’s Facebook page to view firsthand some of the great virtual productions we have made for our entire school community.

Yasmine Beverly Rana, Teacher

Yasmine: My name is Yasmine Rana and I’m the ESL teacher at Paramus High School.

I know that these are perhaps the most uncertain times that we’ve experienced, at least in--in my experience. But I’m so impressed by the maturity and the seriousness of my students who have been eagerly submitting work on a daily basis. We work together, remotely of course, and I am so impressed by the writing that they’re produced and the focus that they’ve shown in wanting to encourage their classmates, and also to continue learning.

I know that they, our students, are living with such uncertainty regarding what’s going to happen next, not just graduation and—and, uh, moving up, but also maybe parents and guardians regarding just having daily supplies and food and for the--for the near future.

People are concerned about, uh, the next paycheck, but yet, despite all that, my students  have come to the table every day to check in, to do assignments, to ask me interesting questions, and to really engage in learning. And I think after everything, that is what I’m most impressed with, that spirit of learning, of hope, of perseverance. And we will get through this. Thank you.

Titania M. Hawkins, Ed.D., Vice Principal

Titania: My name is Dr. Titania Hawkins and I’m a vice principal at Neptune High School.

I just wanted to take a minute to express my admiration and appreciation for all our teachers and administrators. It is my belief that in these uncertain times, we are all learning about the important work of our medical professionals, postal delivery personnel, and even more importantly, our educators.

As we navigate through this trying time together, I wanted to commend you on all your flexibility and creativity, in ensuring all New Jersey students continue to receive the best education possible.

As a parent, I am even more grateful for the work that you do. These past two weeks, I’ve seen social media posts, review[ed] Google classrooms, sat in virtual planning meetings, and reviewed emails from teachers and administrators that has warmed my heart and even given me inspiration and hope.

We are a dedicated profession that cares for the world’s most precious commodity – children. Again, thank you and stay safe.

Kenneth Eckles Jr., Teacher

Kenneth: Good morning. My name is Kenneth Eckles Junior. I’m a middle school ESL and high school soccer coach in Manville, New Jersey.

As we all know, this is a very difficult and uncertain time for all of us. However, we are that guiding light for our students and we must be there for them and their family in this trying time.

Something that helps me get through our virtual school days is the constant contact with my students through our virtual classroom. The face-to-face interaction is still there and it’s amazing to see how happy these students are to still be learning and how much of an impact you play on their lives.

I wish you all the best of luck with your virtual teaching and please remember, being there for your students, it’s the most important thing you could do at the moment. Thank you and best of luck with everything.

Ken Bond, Host

Ken: The last educator that you’re going to hear from today is part of my professional learning network and an amazing colleague at the New Jersey Department of Education. I hope that you feel a sense of peace and solidarity in his words of encouragement. And I hope that all of the rest of the encouraging words and the tips in this episode help you feel like you’re a little bit less alone in this time.

Cory Radisch, Continuous Improvement Specialist

Cory: Hey everyone, this is Cory Radisch, proud Continuous Improvement Specialist for the New Jersey Department of Education.

Part of my work is, I have the luxury and the privilege to meet with people from across the state in different schools and in many counties. And I was amazed by the work that I saw prior to us, uh, all being shut out. But the work that I’m seeing right now is nothing short of spectacular.

We’re seeing people who have been moved out of their comfort zone acquiring skills to do things that they’ve never done before. And I think that what we can be most proud of is that we are doing our absolute best to continue to provide our students with a phenomenal education and educational experience.

So, as frustrating as it may be to go through what we’re going through, I’m asking everybody to just keep it up and remember that you’re here for a reason. And your purpose is greater than your challenges.


Ken: With that, I just wanted to say “be well and thanks for listening.”

We look forward to continuing to connect and engage with you about educating the 1.4 million students around the state and hope to talk to you on the #NJEdPartners third-Tuesday Twitter chat.

You can subscribe to the podcast channel for DOE Digest through your iPhone, in the Apple podcast app, or wherever else you listen to podcasts so that you can get new episodes when they are released.

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Neither the New Jersey Department of Education, nor its officers, employees or agents, specifically endorse, recommend, or favor views expressed by those interviewed. Discussion of resources are not endorsements.

Thanks so much for listening.

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