Union County teachers recognized in awards program

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UNION COUNTY, NJ — Though parents are their children’s first educators, schoolteachers step in, guiding children from early childhood straight into early adulthood. A little gratitude and recognition can go a long way toward showing appreciation for their dedication and skill.

Mathspace has found a way to honor hardworking teachers. According to a media release, 347 teachers from across North America have been named Mathspace Esteemed Educators for 2020. They have been recognized for their vision and their drive to innovate mathematics education. The program started in 2018 and boasts impressive alumni, but this year’s winners have shown exceptional determination and creativity in the face of adversity.

According to its website, Mathspace is a software designer that uses technology to replicate the benefits of one-to-one teaching and utilizes step-by-step support to help students at the exact moment of misconception. The company’s goal is to be an all-in-one resource that helps teachers teach and students learn. Its core values are purpose, impact, selflessness, continuous improvement and customer love.

Given the global pandemic, during which teachers across North America and the world have been challenged to teach remotely, the Mathspace Esteemed Educators “have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to integrating Mathspace’s adaptive technology into the way they personalize each student’s math journey,” according to the release.

Of the 347 winning educators, 21 come from New Jersey. Remarkably, 15 of those are from Union County: Berkeley Heights teachers Britney Bohling, Sarah Heller, Nicole Manganelli, Justin Polce, Laurie Rossiter, Andrea Sperling and Michelle Stapperfenne; Mountainside teachers Natalie Crisafulli, Rachel Halek and Axl Hirsch; and Rahway teachers Leslie Breen, Sara Obergfell, Toni Robertelli, Jenna Scaletti and Anna Winters.

“Mathspace is an online math program designed to help students achieve math goals,” Hannah Bass, an Esteemed Educator from the Wyckoff School District, said on Sept. 4. “Mathspace names Esteemed Educators every year for teachers’ innovative use of Mathspace in the classroom. I had no idea I was nominated until I got an email saying I was named by Mathspace.”

What set Bass apart from other teachers was her tenacity.

“I was able to assign Mathspace to students who wanted more practice on specific skills, individualizing lessons to meet student needs,” Bass said. “I am honored to be named an Esteemed Educator, since this was my first year using the program. I look forward to continuing to innovate more in the future.”

In a telephone interview on Sept. 6, Justin Polce explained what makes Mathspace special.

“Mathspace is an interactive web application that enables students to dynamically complete homework assignments,” Polce said. “They can try problems and get instant feedback, watch instructional videos, or complete extra problems for more practice. Think of it as an interactive textbook for multiple math subjects.”

Polce’s use of the program changed when the pandemic hit.

“I first heard of Mathspace Esteemed Educators last year, when schools closed due to the pandemic, and our classrooms drastically changed from in-class to virtual work-from-home,” Polce said. “It was a difficult time, and we were unexpectedly thrown new challenges. Mathsapce was a tool that helped me transition from in-person to virtual. I have incorporated it into my class for years, so it felt natural to use, and I think it helped the students out a lot.

“I don’t know exactly who nominated me, but nevertheless, I am very grateful for the achievement,” he added.

What set Polce apart from other teachers was his adaptability.

“It was such a rapid and unexpected change to move from teaching in-class to virtual, and I had to adapt quickly — we all did,” Polce said. “I can remember creating ‘Virtual Classroom Guidelines’ from scratch one day before schools were closing. During the pandemic, I wanted to try and structure my lessons as close as possible to how it was in-person, to keep things consistent and help the students’ transition. I think that was the most difficult part. It was incredibly hectic, but even in uncertain times I think students need consistency. Mathspace integration into my lessons was part of that equilibrium. I just wanted to keep students involved and engaged the best I could.”

Polce is grateful to have been included with this year’s winners.

“I feel honored about being one of this year’s winners,” Polce said. “To be honest, I couldn’t be successful without the great administrators and teachers I work with. I couldn’t do it without them. I am thankful for their support, and let’s not forget how amazing the students are. The efforts from students and the community are what make this whole thing work, and I am so grateful to be a part of it.”