1. Denise Ponchock, The Benjamin School
Denise Ponchock is proud to have taught at The Benjamin School since 2005. A graduate of Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont, Ponchock double majored in French and English literature. Her love of language and literature took her to over thirty countries before she accepted a teaching position at The Benjamin School and settled in Jupiter, Florida. In her English classes, Ponchock asks students to consider the point of view of all characters knowing that by putting themselves in the shoes of others, students develop empathy. Good writers write and rewrite, and Ponchock works tirelessly to provide constructive feedback so that students may polish their drafts and take pride in their finished pieces. The close study of grammar empowers students with the rules they will need to articulate their ideas clearly, and Ponchock loves discussing grammar with her students. She was named Teacher of the Year by the Northern Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce in 2016, and she received the Peter and Jody Graham Distinguished Teacher Award in 2020. Ponchock coaches middle school girls’ soccer, chaperones field trips, and makes herself available to her students before and after school. It is often in these settings that relationships are solidified. Ponchock and her husband, Del, have two children: Alexander, a rising TBS ninth grader, and Sage, a rising TBS eighth grader. Denise Ponchock is an ardent educator whose life goal is to open young hearts and minds through the power of reading carefully, speaking articulately, and writing well.
2. Sandra Algarin, Grandview Preparatory School
Sandra Algarin is an upper school math and Spanish teacher at Grandview Preparatory School located in Boca Raton, Florida. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from Universidad Interamericana. Algarin also holds a Master of Education degree in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Differentiated Instruction from the American College of Education. She started her career in education in 1989 and has been teaching at Grandview for 14 years, earning the school’s coveted “Teacher of the Year” recognition in 2021.
Ms. Algarin has dedicated herself to individual student achievement. Her innovative program design and inquiry-based strategies engage students in high-level thinking with real-world application. Algarin’s students have earned top recognitions for creating their own businesses and producing bilingual instructional and educational videos. She truly inspires confidence and a love for learning in her students.
Algarin and her husband reside in Lake Worth with their two dogs. They have three children and five grandchildren whom they adore. When she is not teaching, Sandra enjoys exercising, reading and spending time with her grandchildren.
3. Kimberly Palacios-Rolston, The Greene School
My name is Kimberly Palacios-Rolston. I recently joined The Greene School in 2020 as an Early Childhood Educator. My teaching career began at the Rosarian Academy in 2001 where I spent 14 years there mastering the Montessori model—a child-centered educational approach that values the human spirit in the development of the child’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive abilities. I received an Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Education with a Montessori track, an Associate Early Childhood Credential from the American Montessori Society, and an International Montessori Teaching Diploma. Aside from Montessori training, I am currently pursuing my M.Ed Degree in Educational Leadership from Southeastern University. I have my BS Degree from Grace Christian University in Leadership and Ministry.
Outside of school, my husband and I work closely with a nonprofit organization that provides needs and smiles for each child. For more than 21 years, Little Smiles has served children in difficult circumstances throughout South Florida. As an advocate to helping children in need, I sat on the City of West Palm Beach’s Educational Advisory Board. For 5 years, I have served as an advocate for young children who come from a life of substance abuse, poverty, and trauma. I also serve on the Board for Back to Basics— a nonprofit that provides a one-on-one educational experience conducive to each individual’s learning style, regardless of age. The mission is to inspire personal growth, build self-esteem, and support learning goals. Lastly, I recently took on the position as an Ambassador for Take Stock in Children—a nonprofit organization in Florida that provides a unique opportunity for deserving, low-income youth to escape the cycle of poverty through education.
In 2015, I left the day-to-day teaching to build a daycare and school for pregnant and postpartum women who battle with substance abuse at Gratitude House as their Director of Childcare. Upon completion of my mission, I moved to the Drug Abuse Foundation in Delray Beach where I continued my work advocating for children born into substance abuse.
I am thrilled to return to my first love, the classroom, and share my passion and enthusiasm for learning.
4. Mark Risisky, Glades Central Community High School
I was born and raised in Connecticut, but moved to Florida after high school. I graduated from FIU, and earned my master’s degrees in history and social studies education. I have been teaching at Glades Central Community High School for over 20 years, and am proud to be a Raider. I started there as an ESOL teacher, and have carried my concern for language learners and, as a great-grandson of immigrants, I am concerned for my immigrant students as well. I constantly strive to learn more about my content matter by participating in seminars during the school year as well as during summers. I am an avid proponent of using technology in the classroom, as a way of fostering mastery of content as well as introducing to students some computer-based skills that will help them secure higher-paying jobs. My academic background is in Medieval European History, but, ever since having been assigned a majority of United States history classes, I have grown to love the history of our country, warts and all. I believe in teaching an honest history in order to bring about a desire and a willingness for our students to make a positive change as citizens of this country. I encourage students to be upstanders, not bystanders, in order to channel their frustrations into something more positive. It is a true honor to be recognized as a professional by my peers and I appreciate the nomination.
5. Ariana Murphy, Belle Glade Elementary
My name is Ariana Murphy and I am in my sixth year of teaching at Belle Glade Elementary. Education is my passion and I can’t imagine doing anything else. After my first year of teaching, I taught second grade and moved up with the same class every year until fifth grade! After 4 years of leading as department chair, I took on the position of AMP Math teacher and am so excited for what this year holds. I aspire to be a principal one day and am grateful to my Principal for strengthening me for my future. As a teacher, I am most inspired when students are able to communicate what they’ve learned or watching a student grasp a concept and seeing them become proud of themselves. I have watched my students grow academically and in their self-esteem and that is why I love teaching.
I was privileged to receive two educational grants. One unforgettable grant was when I worked with another second grade teacher to receive funds to purchase math and science materials. I budgeted money to buy my students disposable lab coats and safety goggles for experiments. During one of our experiments, a student approached me, clutching her lab coat and said, “Ms. Murphy, I love science now!,” and she went on to score a level 4 on Science FSA. We as teachers may have to sacrifice time or simply add a little creativity to the lesson, but those small memories are what students will remember about me!
6. Shaundrika Taylor, Congress Middle School
Shaundrika Taylor is an Assistant Principal at Congress Middle School, and has spent seven years within the Palm Beach County School District. Among her many duties as an administrator, she implemented a Literacy Program for students to participate in weekly read alongs with teachers, staff, and District staff to encourage and promote literacy throughout the school year during the pandemic. Over 100 students joined every Wednesday at 7 p.m. via Google Meets and were read to by the adults. The students were then tasked with comprehension lessons to earn prizes. The read along program is continuing during the summer as an effort to continue and promote literacy. Ms. Taylor often uses her own personal resources to provide prizes and gifts to the students. This summer, one lucky student will win a shopping spree. Although Ms. Taylor is no longer in the classroom, it is important that she continues to be a well-rounded educator and have an impact on student academics.
She is a Veteran of the United States Army who enjoys helping, teaching and mentoring our youth. In her spare time, she oversees the operations of her nonprofit 501(c)(3), Shaundrika Taylor Cancer Foundation, to help individuals that have been affected and effected by cancer. The foundation also provides scholarships to students for higher education.
7. Juliany Denis, Greenacres Elementary School
To be able to wake up each day and love what you do is a gift. For the past 12 years, I have been fortunate enough to be a part of Greenacres Elementary School’s staff. Greenacres Elementary is one of the few true community schools in the district, which has allowed me to develop relationships and connections with both the students and their families throughout the years. Each day it is my focus to cultivate a safe community of diverse learners that can achieve academic mastery and emotional intelligence. I love to plan lessons that are engaging and current through technology, music, and media. My classroom is never silent, it is always filled with academic conversations which help challenge students’ way of thinking to develop deeper understandings for core content and curriculum.
My love and passion for education doesn’t stop once the school day or year ends. I also am an educator for the 21st Century Program which helps students of high-poverty and low-performance meet state and local standards in core academic subjects. I truly enjoy working with these students over multiple years to see their growth and progress, both academically and emotionally. In addition to the 21st Century, I have been an active role in leading the 5th Grade Safety Patrols. Each year we build students up to become school leaders and role models for their peers. We actively raise money to help fund their annual trip to Washington, D.C. I haven’t missed a year since I began working at Greenacres and it has been one of my most memorable highlights each year.