New Jersey Department of Education

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2008 New Jersey Distinguished Student Teacher Awards

Click on a name to see a short biography.

Anthony Austin
Cecilia Del Arca
Danielle Devletian
Oscar Diaz
Peter Gambino
Christine Grasso
Jennifer Kamm
Nicole Lenart

Jill Newman
Cynthia Ovalle
Angela Szczepanski
Matthew Valvano
Sara Van Ness
Kate Lynn Walker
Carolyn Weindel


From a small town in rural England, Anthony Austin came to the United States in June 2002 to work at a summer camp for individuals with special needs. Through this defining experience, he was offered a position as a full-time live-in aide by the family of a young man with whom he had worked. It was this unique relationship which inspired his pursuit to become an educator, believing in the constructivist and inclusive approach to teaching. His future ambition is to enable positive social change and individual excellence, by creating a learning community in which he can foster a love of learning.  Anthony graduated from William Paterson University in May 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history.

Cecilia Del Arca graduated cum laude in May 2005 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications from William Paterson University. A year later she returned to William Paterson and in December 2007, she completed the post-baccalaureate elementary education certification program.  Cecilia intends to create engaging and meaningful lessons that will stretch and motivate her students. Her most sincere desire is to make a positive difference in the lives of her students. She begins this lifelong learning journey as a kindergarten teacher in Paterson’s School # 29. She has no doubt in her heart that this is the career path she is meant to take.

Danielle Devletian graduated with a 4.0 GPA from Rutgers University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics and psychology in May 2007 and a Masters degree in mathematics education from the Graduate School of Education in May 2008.  Danielle has received various honors and awards, including the Rutgers Distinguished Scholars Award and the Weill Mathematics Scholarship, and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Psi Chi Honor Society.  At Rutgers, Danielle was a pre-calculus recitation teacher and tutored students in psychology and mathematics.  Her student teaching experience at J. P. Stevens High School helped her realize the importance of student-driven activities and the use of technology in the classroom, among many other things.   She also traveled to Costa Rica with International Student Volunteers to help save endangered sea turtles and this past fall completed her first half-marathon at the Baltimore Running Festival.

Oscar Diaz left his native country of Chile to come to the United States in search of opportunity.  After struggling to make a living in America, he attended college to pursue a career in education.  With sacrifice and dedication, he earned an Associate’s degree from Brookdale Community College with a 4.0 GPA.  He was also honored with the prestigious Outstanding Student Award.  Then, as a husband and father, he graduated Summa Cum Laude from Monmouth University and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Foreign Language and Education.  While completing his studies, Oscar Diaz contributed to various honors associations and clubs.  Also, he worked in various communities and schools, gaining a broader perspective of children and the education system.  His philosophy of education is based on the desire to help individuals become responsible citizens.  Oscar Diaz is currently teaching Spanish in the Freehold Regional High School District and planning to attend graduate school. 

Peter Gambino graduated from Rutgers University in Camden in May 2008 where he studied English, education, writing, religion, and film studies.  During his time at Rutgers, he was inducted into both the Athenaeum honor society, which recognizes academic excellence, and Kappa Delta Pi, an international honor society in education.  As well as teaching, Peter enjoys filmmaking and spends his free time writing, directing, and producing short films.  He is an adamant believer of incorporating new media and technology within his classroom, as he feels creativity is essential to learning.  Come fall, he will attend Rutgers University’s Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing.

Christine Grasso graduated from Drew University in May 2008. She earned honors in English and French for her interdisciplinary thesis on the works of Samuel Beckett. She received her teaching certification from the College of St. Elizabeth. At Drew, Christine was involved in theatre, on the literary magazine, and on the Orientation Committee. She earned a Gold “D” for her contributions to campus life. She received the Shakespeare Award her junior and senior year. She believes educators have the potential to shape students’ perspectives on learning, on the world around them, and on themselves.

Jennifer Kamm double majored in elementary education and interpersonal communication at Rider University where she graduated in December 2007 with highest honors, summa cum laude, and as an Andrew J. Rider Scholar.  She has been teaching third grade since December, and has a passion for integrating technology into the instructional process and following the responsive classroom approach.  Awards received include the Rider Certificate of Excellence in Elementary Education, and Who’s Who Among College Students.  Jennifer was involved in many organizations such as Student Government, Student Entertainment, and the Association of Commuting Students.  She has spoken at many events, her most memorable being the freshman convocation.

Nicole Lenart received her Master’s degree in social studies education this May 2008 from the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University where she holds a 4.0 GPA.  She received her Bachelor’s degree in history from Gettysburg College where she graduated second in her class in May 2006.  Nicole has been an active member of community service organizations, including the Gettysburg College chapter of Circle-K where she served as club president.  She will be starting her career as a history teacher at Chatham High School this fall.  She emphasizes the development of critical thinking skills and analysis of primary documents in her teaching.

Jill Newman graduated from Felician College in May 2008 with a certificate in elementary education/early childhood education (P-3,) and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.  As a pre-service teacher, she has worked as a volunteer, substitute teacher, and student teacher at Memorial School in Montvale, New Jersey where she gained invaluable, hands-on experience in various grade levels.  Jill believes that the purpose of education is to mold children into outstanding students and citizens, and she is eager to make a difference in the lives of her future students.

Cynthia Ovalle currently attends Kean University where she is working on her Master’s Degree in early childhood education.  She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Rutgers University in December 2007.  Cynthia was also the recipient of the Kean University Outstanding Student Teacher Award for her work done at Connecticut Farms Elementary School, located in Union, New Jersey.  Cynthia is currently a substitute teacher in the Union Public School District and also works as a teacher’s aide at New Horizons in Autism, an after-school program for children with autism.

Angela Szczepanski graduated magna cum laude from Richard Stockton College in December 2007. She received Bachelor of Arts degrees in elementary education and psychology with specialization in middle school mathematics and language arts. Angela has been on the Dean’s list every semester of her college career while working full time at a family owned restaurant. She did her student teaching at Roland Rogers Elementary in Galloway Township where she learned the value of team work and collaboration. Angela is eager to become an educator to be a positive role model in her students’ lives. She believes that communication and collaboration, well structured classroom management style, and differentiated instruction are all vital components of being a successful teacher.  Angela is currently enrolled as a graduate student working to complete a master of arts in special education.

Matthew Valvano graduated from Princeton University in 2006 with a Bachelors degree in English, and went on to teach at Eton College in the United Kingdom for a year before returning to Princeton's Program in Teacher Preparation to legitimize his love for and commitment to education.  His personal philosophy revolves around the creation and nurturing of a classroom culture that is at once structured and secure, and entertaining and organic.  Matthew gratefully credits his family, friends, mentors, and fifteen-plus years of ice hockey playing and coaching in the facilitation of his efforts and the gratification he will derive as a high school English teacher.

Sara Van Ness graduated summa cum laude in May 2008 from Monmouth University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and secondary education.  She has received numerous awards for her academic accomplishments during her tenure at Monmouth.  She served as president for both Kappa Delta Pi and International Reading Association.  Sara’s work history includes serving as a teaching assistant for Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth and tutoring in Monmouth’s Writing Center.  She is also a nationally certified therapeutic riding instructor for students with disabilities.  Next year, Sara intends to pursue a Master of Arts in English at Monmouth University. 

Kate Lynn Walker graduated from Kean University in January of 2008 where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and teacher education. Kate Lynn graduated with magna cum laude status. She has received entry into both the English Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta, and the Kean Honor Society, Lambda Alpha Sigma.  She believes that out of all the requirements needed of new teachers, student teaching has been the most invaluable and rewarding educational experiences. She successfully completed both her junior and senior student teaching experiences at Linden High School. As a new teacher Kate Lynn is continuously learning from her students and experiences in her classroom.

Carolyn Weindel will graduate in May 2008 from The College of New Jersey with a Master’s degree in deaf education and elementary education. In her college career, she has been a leader of the Deaf-Hearing Connection group and a member of the dance company, Synergy. She has completed three student teaching experiences, including one at the American Overseas School of Rome. Currently, she is applying and interviewing for teacher of the deaf positions.

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