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Teachers dubbed ‘Local Heroes’ for their service

Date: 1/17/2014

By Carley Dangona

HARTFORD, Conn. – Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) of Connecticut and Western Massachusetts honored 10 area teachers with the seventh annual RMHC Local Hero Awards. Among the recipients were Mary Madru from North Middle School in Westfield and Lauren Dion from Woodland Elementary School in Southwick.

The selected teachers from Connecticut and Western Massachusetts have all exhibited tremendous dedication to their profession and outstanding efforts in servicing their schools and communities.

The recipients were honored by the RMHC Board of Directors at a reception at the Connecticut Governor’s Residence in Hartford in October 2013 and were joined by superintendents and principals from their respective districts and schools. Each honoree was presented with a plaque commemorating their award and a $1,000 grant for their school.

There is no application or nomination process for the RMHC Local Hero Awards. Instead, the local charity works closely with partnering organizations, such as the Connecticut Association of Schools, Connecticut State Department of Education and the Massachusetts Department of Education, to identify the “heroes” throughout the region.

Madru teaches English Language Arts. Over the course of her 31-year career she has taught different grade levels and has a background with special education. Madru recently earned a degree in school administration from American International College and hopes to become an assistant principal or principal in the future.

“I love it [teaching]. I love the first day of school. Every year is different and the good outweighs the bad,” she said. “For a lot of kids, school is the most dependable, routine part of the day. It provides dependability and stability for them.”

Christopher Rogers, North Middle School principal, said, “It’s incredible. It’s an honor for her as an individual and for us as a school. Mary is very professional and hardworking. She is incredibly skilled and well versed in her subject.”

Madru likened teachers to builders and said that it’s their job to build a strong, supportive foundation for students to use the rest of their lives. “I want kids to leave with the confidence that no matter what they see or do, they can succeed,” she said.

She incorporates other disciplines such as math to demonstrate how her lessons are relevant and applicable to the real world. She supports the instruction of penmanship and noted that some schools no longer teach students cursive writing. She said that she has always created supplemental teaching materials for her classes.

Madru admitted she is technologically challenged, but learns from her students. She said that devices can be beneficial, but can hinder students’ social development if relied on too much. “A lot of kids don’t go out and play in the snow, [instead] they are on their electronic devices,” she said.

Madru and Rogers are working together to determine the best use of the scholarship.

Dion has taught first grade for 16 years. She learned about the award during a special faculty meeting. She said when the principal said someone from the school was chosen as a RMHC Local Hero, she looked around the table wondering which teacher it was because they are all worthy of the honor.

“It’s an extreme honor to have that recognition outside your school. So many other teachers deserve to be recognized. It’s nice that they’re taking notice and supporting our skills,” she said.

Kimberly Saso, Woodland Elementary School principal, said, “We’re full of pride that one of teachers won. She’s very deserving of the award.”

Saso described Dion as “someone to always go to” and noted that she is always willing to share resources with and answer questions of other teachers. She said Dion has been a finalist for Massachusetts Teacher of the Year three times.

“She has a love for children. She is always looking to grow professionally and is willing to look at innovation to improve what she already does,” Saso said of Dion.

“I come in every day and make it a fresh start for each student. I put my heart and soul into teaching because it’s not just about academics – there is a social and an emotional part to educating students,” Dion stated.

Her favorite part of teaching first graders is the “first day of school when they come in eager to learn and look at you with those bright eyes.”

In regards to the award celebration Dion said, “It was such a neat evening, very personable and meaningful. Each awardee was introduced by a different RMHC speaker – it was tailored to each of the 10 individuals. They wanted us to understand that they appreciate us being educators.”

Dion and Saso used the grant to purchase the Lucy Calkins & Colleagues Reading and Writing Project materials for the curriculum. Five of the first grade classrooms will conduct a pilot program for the school district using the information.