New Jersey Department of Education

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2009 New Jersey Distinguished Student Teacher Awards

Click on a name to see a short biography.

Laura Birchler
Gina Canale
Felice Centrella
Jenna Cipolla
Douglas Finale
Catherine Fornini
Lizabeth Kingsley

Kelly Newman
Danielle L. Romero
Nicole Scimone
Chiara Shah
Jill VanArsdalen
Jacqueline Wojtaszek
Ashley Woolsey

1) Laura Birchler

Laura Birchler earned her first degree from Richard Stockton College in 2004, concentrating her studies in Literature and virtual media. During this time, she received a Fellowship to write her novel Fathom. After graduating with honors, Ms. Birchler traveled extensively throughout Mexico volunteering and teaching English.  She returned to the United States to pursue her Secondary English certification and currently works for Wildwood School District.  When asked   what she believes a teacher’s role is, she responded, “To facilitate student-centered learning … [where] students identify with the material through their relationships with the environment surrounding them.”

2) Gina Canale

Gina Canale is a wife and mother of five children who completed the accelerated teacher education program from Georgian Court University and was awarded the NJ State Certificate of Eligibility with Advanced Standing (K-5) and Teacher of Students with Disabilities Endorsement. She completed her undergraduate degree in Human Resources from Kings College,Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Ms. Canale completed her student teaching at Ramtown Elementary School in Howell Township, in an inclusive fourth grade class. Ms. Canale acknowledges that children today are faced with many challenges but believes “Educators must always strive for excellence and hold high expectations. Through careful instructional planning, effective classroom management, and a caring disposition, all children can learn and succeed.”

3) Felice Centrella

Felice Centrella was born and raised in Bergen County, New Jersey. She attended Ramapo College of New Jersey for four years and graduated in May 2009 with the Latin honor Summa Cum Laude. Felice has a baccalaureate degree in literature, a minor in psychology, and a K-12 English certification. At Ramapo, Felice is involved in the literature honor society and the teacher education honor society. Among her professors and classmates, Felice is known for her active participation, thorough understanding of coursework, and contagious enthusiasm.

Felice completed her student teaching at Indian Hills high school in Oakland, New Jersey where she created rigorous, meaningful lessons that challenged her students. Her command of classroom displayed an air of firmness and friendliness. Felice has demonstrated superior abilities to inspire and engage others in learning and bring her advanced intellectual gifts to the classroom. The New Jersey Department of Education has rightfully awarded Felice Centrella as the 2009 New Jersey Distinguished Student Teacher of the Year.

4) Jenna Cipolla

Jenna Cipolla graduated magna cum laude in January 2009 with a degree in Music Education from Kean University. During her time at Kean, Jenna helped to found New Jersey's only active chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi: The National Honors Band Fraternity. In 2008, she was selected to play 2nd clarinet in New Jersey's Inaugural Intercollegiate Band, comprised of top wind ensemble musicians in the state universities. Her philosophy of music education is that all students have the right to study music, and through the study of music, students learn to express themselves. Jenna is currently a permanent substitute teacher in the Union Township School District, where her band and orchestra students amaze her daily.

5) Douglas Finale

Douglas Finale is currently pursuing a career in middle school science education following nines years working as a physical therapist.  He is married to his wife Beth and is the father of three boys.  Doug’s education includes a Bachelors of Science in Biology from The College of New Jersey, a Masters of Physical Therapy from The University of St. Augustine, and a Post-Baccalaureate Teacher of Elementary Education Certification with 5-8 Science Specialization from William Paterson University.  Doug’s education at William Paterson, his science background, and the interpersonal skills he learned through therapy allow him to provide a positive and effective learning experience.

6) Catherine Fornini

Catherine Fornini began her education at Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2004 where she majored in English Literature and Education in order to complete her goal of becoming a Secondary English teacher. She graduated summa cum laude from FDU with a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature, and a Master’s degree in Teaching. Catherine received the Outstanding Achievement in Literature Award from FDU and was a member of the University Honors Program. The support she received during her student teaching at Parsippany Hills High School enhanced her love for education. More than anything, Catherine wants to help her students achieve their life goals.

7) Lizabeth Kingsley

Lizabeth Kingsley completed Kean University’s post-baccalaureate teaching certification program with a 4.0 GPA and won the 2008-2009 Kean University Outstanding Student Intern Award. She has an MPA from NYU where she received the Dean’s Scholar Award, and a BA from Mount Holyoke College from which she graduated cum laude. She is a master class student at The Writers Studio in New York and has published original fiction. Her student teaching at the Roosevelt Elementary School in Rahway taught her that all students, however different, want to learn and it’s a teacher’s job and ultimate joy to connect to every one.

8) Kelly Newman

Kelly Newman received her post baccalaureate teaching certification with a 4.0 GPA from Montclair State University. She also has a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Beloit College in Wisconsin. After many years of success in the business world, Kelly’s belief in the power of education inspired her to change course in midlife and follow her lifelong passion to teach. Kelly firmly believes in the potential of teachers to promote social justice and commit to ensuring equal learning opportunities for every student. She is currently a substitute teacher in the Northern Valley School district and an active community volunteer.

9) Danielle L. Romero

Danielle L. Romero graduated summa cum laude from The College of New Jersey in May 2009 receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Technology Education with a minor in Spanish.  She was honored with the Armstrong Scholar Award, NJTEA College Excellence Award, and a Lockheed Martin Scholarship. Danielle served on the boards of the Technology Education Society and Unión Latina at TCNJ and is a member of three honor societies. She completed her student teaching at South Brunswick HS.  Danielle has currently accepted a high school position teaching architecture and drafting and is pursuing a graduate degree in Educational Technology.

10) Nicole Scimone

Nicole Scimone student-taught 9th- and 10th-grade English at Verona High School, where she studied the Understanding by Design model.  She graduated summa cum laude from Caldwell College with a Bachelor of the Arts degree in English.  Nicole completed Caldwell’s scholar’s program by writing and directing a masque.  She was active in Kappa Delta Epsilon and edited the student newspaper and literary magazine.  Currently, Nicole is   pursuing a Master of the Arts degree in English with a concentration in International Literature from Montclair State University. Her ultimate career goal is to dedicate herself to her students and to lifelong learning.

11) Chiara Shah

Chiara Shah graduated from Cornell University in 1991 with a degree in Communications and a concentration in Education. Her career spans a variety of professions, including publishing and computer database design. In 2000, she started a family with her husband, Sunish, a fellow Cornellian. They have a son Kiran (8) and a daughter Kayla (4). Chiara has always thought that teaching is a wonderful profession to pair with parenthood, and with that goal in mind she earned her Master of Arts in Teaching from Monmouth University in January of 2009. She now teaches Pre-Calculus Honors and Algebra II at Lawrence High School in Lawrenceville, NJ. Certified in Mathematics, she is about to earn a second certification in English. As a math teacher, she hopes to use reading and writing assignments to inspire her students to think conceptually and to communicate mathematically. She would like to thank her husband, who spent many an evening with the kids so she could complete lesson plans and homework. 

12) Jill VanArsdalen

Jill VanArsdalen graduated summa cum laude in December 2007 with a degree in mathematics from Rider University. She soon returned to Rider to complete the Graduate Level Teacher Certification Program. While at Rider, Jill tutored all levels of mathematics and taught a review course for students preparing to take the Graduate Record Examination. Jill believes in creating a classroom environment based on mutual respect and communication. She is a strong believer of differentiating instruction and integrating technology into her lessons, as she considers flexibility and creativity to be critical to stimulating minds and instilling in her students a love of learning.

13) Jacqueline Wojtaszek

Jacqueline Wojtaszek graduated from The Richard Stockton College of NJ in December 2008 earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education. Ms. Wojo completed her student teaching requirements at Jackson Memorial High School, where she developed the skills and confidence to engage her students in understanding chemistry through various demonstrations of chemical reactions. Her success would not have been possible without the support and guidance of Mr. Murawski, Mrs. McCormick, and Mrs. Rogers, all extraordinary master teachers, and the cooperation of her students.

Currently teaching at Manalapan High School, she is continuing to grow as an educator with the hope of motivating students to develop critical thinking skills as well as an appreciation and understanding of chemistry for years to come.

14) Ashley Woolsey

Ashley Woolsey’s life has focused around using education as a tool for empowerment and action, something she now strives to show her students. Since middle school Ashley has been educating others. She was the student leader of a club that developed into a non-profit organization called Global Care Unlimited. The organization conducts student lead global humanitarian service initiatives that focus on educating communities and raising funds to help others. Her international interests followed her through college, when she spent a year abroad in Kenya teaching English and History in a rural village. Ashley graduated Magna Cum Laude from Ramapo College of New Jersey in 2008, majoring in International Studies with a concentration in Development.

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