Outstanding Summit secondary school teacher to be honored at Princeton commencement

Alicia Rodriguez of Kent Place School in Summit is one of four outstanding New Jersey secondary school teachers Princeton University will honor on Tuesday, May 24.

PRINCETON, NJ — Princeton University will honor four outstanding New Jersey secondary school teachers at its 2022 commencement on Tuesday, May 24. This year’s recipients of the Princeton Prize for Distinguished Secondary School Teaching are Deborah Cella of Glen Rock High School, Alicia Rodriguez of Kent Place School in Summit, Devin Ryan-Pullen of Burlington City High School and Lee Snowden of University High School in Newark.

The teachers were selected for the award based on nominations from public and private schools around the state. They each will receive $5,000, as well as $3,000 for their school libraries.

“While teaching under pandemic conditions continues to be stressful and challenging for teachers across the nation, the four prize winners have been able to provide a truly exceptional education for their students,” said Todd Kent, director of Princeton’s Program in Teacher Preparation. “Although they work in different subject areas and in very different school settings, they all share a total commitment to the intellectual growth and emotional well-being of their students. Their stories are wonderful and inspiring, and the influence of their remarkable work is felt throughout their school communities.”

In selecting winners, the staff of the Program in Teacher Preparation, in reviewing the applications, considers recommendations from colleagues and students as well as evidence of the teachers’ accomplishments in the school and the community. The 10 finalists were visited at their schools by Rosanne Zeppieri, a member of the program staff. The winners were then selected by a committee chaired by Elizabeth Colagiuri, deputy dean of the college.

Rodriguez is a middle school math teacher at Kent Place School. Upon entering her classroom, one may find students tossing a Nerf basketball into a hoop. It’s not a sign of mayhem — rather, it’s an indication that the students are engaged in a participatory lesson on graphing parabolas.

According to colleagues, Rodriguez excels at drawing students into lessons in a fun, lively way.

“She goes out of her way to expose students to practical applications of math in their everyday lives,” said Donna Gulino, a colleague at Kent Place School.

“When she is teaching, she watches students’ body language to see how well they are understanding the content and looks for ways to make the material understandable for everyone,” an administrator said.

Rodriguez is deeply involved in the life of the school, reading applications as a member of the admission committee; planning student outings; and serving as the diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging facilitator. She is also the grade eight team leader.
Her engagement with students goes well beyond math. One student said Rodriguez helped her prepare to give a speech at graduation, encouraged her to get involved in extracurricular activities and gave her frequent pep talks that boosted her self-confidence.

“After knowing her for just a year, she has changed the way I view myself, my capabilities in mathematics and my potential as a leader,” the student said.