Educator of the Year 2023

Jennifer Petti1. Jennifer Petti, Palm Beach Public Elementary School

Mrs. Petti’s work as an Art teacher extends past the regular school hours. She runs an afterschool art club and collaborates with several organizations and business partners in Palm Beach County to support fundraisers, community events and workshops. She is currently partnering with the West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority’s “The Next Big Thing” with world-renowned artist and architect, Marco Casagrande.

Mrs. Petti is the lead teacher for the Resiliency in School Environment (RISE initiative). With this initiative she has created a Zen Den for staff members and calming corners for students in every classroom. She helps all staff cultivate gratitude and provides tips to help staff balance work and life. Because of her hard work and dedication to the social-emotional health of students and staff, Palm Beach Public was named to Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s 2022 list of America’s Healthiest Schools.

Mrs. Petti collaborated with the Mandel Recreation Center to celebrate Earth Day by providing student created art and videos to recognize the importance of native plants. The staff at the Mandel Recreation Center showcased Mrs. Petti’s student art and invited community members to view the art show.

For students, getting to spend time in Mrs. Petti’s art class is like slowly opening the best gift one could ever receive. Each day unfolds with a new lesson, a new horizon, and always a surprise to behold. Giving back to the community and finding opportunities to showcase student artwork is something that Jennifer loves. Each year the entire school is transformed into an an art gallery for the annual art show. Every student in Palm Beach Public creates a piece of art to be showcased in the annual event. Themes range from Under the Sea, Sunshine State of Mind, to this year’s Art through the Ages.

Mrs. Petti has been an educator for 25 years. She is a former National Board certified teacher and is certified as a Clinical Educator. In addition, she holds her reading endorsement. This endorsement allows Jennifer to assist students who are struggling in reading. She provides individual and small group instruction throughout the school day during open blocks of time. Her support has made a positive impact on reading learning gains.

In addition to the multitude of extracurricular opportunities and events she brings to the students, this year Mrs. Petti took on an additional role as a member of the Ben Carson Reading Room committee. The Carson Scholars Fund strives to provide rooms in schools that are literacy rich and soul nourishing. Mrs. Petti transformed the room into an enchanted garden for reading for all students. Her creativity, teamwork, leadership and being able to see things through the eyes of a child helped to make this room an oasis for students and teachers to fully enjoy the act of reading. In this garden, there are no demands, no assignments, no deadlines, just books and time. Surrounded by artistic creations, waterfalls, and sounds of nature, the students at Palm Beach Public are the recipients of this bonus room in which all they have to do is fall in love with a good book.


 

Jennifer Sabugo

2. Jennifer Sabugo, Palm Beach Day Academy

I have a background in teaching technology at 2 elite prep schools in New York City for 20 years. My husband and I decided to move to Palm Beach County after having one of the first Zoom weddings on the beach in April of 2020.

As a technology and innovation teacher for grades K-3, I design my curriculum to expose students to a multitude of skills that will enable them to “show what they know” using technology in a myriad of ways. Projects span the gamut from basic text formatting to combining augmented reality with green screen video and everything in between. I love teaching coding and robotics in addition to traditional technology curriculum. I believe it helps kids to use their brains in different ways during the school day. My goal is to prepare my students for future grades as well inspire them to think outside the box. I love designing collaborative projects and it’s a bonus when I get a chance to put the A (art) in STEAM as I began my career as a graphic designer.

One of my favorite projects this year was creating Codeflakes – a unique snowflake made from a drawing, a few lines of code and cut out with a cutting machine. Another favorite was, light painting. Students learned to “paint with light” by combining a kaleidoscope and slow shutter app and colorful glow lights. We had fun around Halloween by creating an animated ghost hologram. Students drew a multi frame ghost to create an animation, then projected the animation onto a plastic prism held above the iPad. The effect was a ghost magically hovering in the air. After learning how to property use tools made for children. My students made toys out of Amazon boxes for our preschoolers to play with. We had a car, cat, computer, horse corral and more. We made drawings of robots come alive by combining hand drawn art with paper circuitry. Using a pencil with conductive graphite, students drew a robot and recorded their voices. When a different parts of the robot were touched, the recorded sound effect played.

I like to use robotics in creative ways. After students learn the basics, they are encouraged to express their creativity. For example, coding a robot to create modern art type drawings or building a structure out of legos for a robot to pass through. One student programmed her robot to play the entire song, Do Re Mi, on a xylophone another made a hat for the robot out of cardboard.

Throughout my career, I’ve always felt that collaboration with classroom teachers, as well as special area teachers, enables students to not only grow comfortable with the ever changing landscape of educational technology, but to have no mental boundaries as to what is possible. My goal is for students to think of ways to tie technology into classroom projects on their own. This year I worked with the Spanish teacher to have students code two characters speaking to each other in Spanish. I worked with the Physical Education teachers to create reverse videos with their students. While filming each other, students thought about the movement of their bodies in a unique, and often hilarious, way. In a collaboration with art, students combined a hand drawn portrait with a digital art background for a lesson on Frida Kahlo. The world of augmented reality and green screen video was explored in conjunction with a classroom lesson on owls. Instead of writing a fact on paper, students were magically transported to a forest where they held their augmented realty owl in their hands white teaching the audience what they know.

Students love using technology for creative storytelling. I use a variety of tools such as stop motion animation, comics, video, digital art and various iPad apps to tell stories. Students love recording their voices telling stories and playing back the videos they made. They enjoy being creative without the added difficulty of writing with pencil and paper.

My favorite part of my job is when a student says to me, “Mrs. Sabugo, this is what I want to do. Tell me how to do it.” It’s my job to guide them through the process. After 23 years teaching, I’m still excited to learn the newest technologies and figure out how to incorporate them into classroom curriculum.


 

Brianna Riley3. Brianna Riley, Jerry Thomas Elementary School

My name is Brianna Riley. I have been a special educator in Palm Beach County for 8 years. I am a proud alumni of Florida Atlantic University, where I earned my Bachelors in special education and graduated Suma Cum Laude honors. I continued my education and obtained my Austim Spectrum Disorder endorsement with the school district. I have worked in a self-contained classroom with students on the spectrum and am a part of the Palm Beach County Special Olympics division! I can proudly say I enjoy impacting my community in ways that go beyond the classroom.


 

Mildred Acosta

4. Mildred Acosta, Rosarian Academy

Mildred Acosta has a passion for educating elementary students at Rosarian Academy. For
over a decade, Mrs. Acosta has helped to lay the social, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual
foundation for her students. Focusing on each student and meeting them where they are,
Mrs. Acosta has led her students to achieve a high standard of academic excellence while
also instilling the virtues of kindness, service, and respect that she lives out every day.
Having a passion for the environment, Mrs. Acosta started a small gardening program at
Rosarian Academy to infuse the kindergarten science curriculum with practical
applications in nutrition and the life cycle of plants. The program has since grown, as the
school now partners with Fresh Rx to teach students in grades 1-6 organic, sustainable
gardening techniques in addition to age-appropriate science lessons. With her passion for
service, Mrs. Acosta partnered with The Lord’s Place’s Culinary Work Experience program
to donate the garden’s fresh, organic produce to housing insecure people who are learning
employable skills.
Mrs. Acosta’s passion for the environment and service inspired her to partner with the
Kijana Educational Empowerment Initiative last summer. Through this non-profit, Mrs.
Acosta traveled to its rural Kenyan school to volunteer, learn, and teach, including
modeling phonics lessons for its educators. She also became involved with the “Care, Share,
and Explore Program” in which she collaborated with local educators on hands-on lessons
with environmental themes. A student favorite was an environmental awareness lesson
centered around Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax.


 

Jessica Jackson

5. Jessica Jackson, Hagen Road Elementary School

My name is Jessica Jackson. I just completed my 20th year of teaching, 12 years in NY, where I’m originally from, and 8 years here in Palm Beach County. I am currently a 3rd grade ELA teacher and team leader at Hagen Road Elementary School. I am Reading Endorsed and ESOL certified. In 2016 I was a Florida High Impact teacher and in 2022 a Dwyer award nominee. This past year I was also chosen as a South Region Spotlight teacher. It has always been a passion of mine to work with children and within these past four years as an ELA teacher, my focus has been to spark the love of reading within my students. There’s nothing greater than watching the growth of young readers and I’m blessed to be a part of their journey year after year!


 

Tiffany Cox

6. Dr. Tiffany Cox, Lake Worth Community High School

Dr. Tiffany Cox is the director of bands at Lake Worth Community High School in Lake Worth Beach, Florida. She is a South Florida native and received her bachelor’s degree in Jazz Trombone from the Florida State University in 2011. She completed her masters degree at Florida Atlantic University in 2013 and in 2020, matriculated with her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction. Her research focuses on race, class, and gender in music education with an emphasis on the impact of gender on the marginalization of women and girls in instrumental music. Dr. Cox presents regularly at local, state, national and international conferences where she advocates for equity in music education and raises up the voices of women of color through presentations on gender-based stereotyping within instrumental music as well as the intersections of race, class, and gender and their impact on women and girls. Dr. Cox has been recognized nationally by the Give A Note Foundation Music Educator Innovator Award, the National Life Group Life Changer of the Year Award, The Yamaha 40 Under 40 Award, and the Grammy Music Educator Award (Semi-finalist). She has been recognized by the Florida Bandmasters Association for her commitment to rebuilding a previously failing school band program and was awarded the Randolph A. Frank Prize for Music Education, presented by the Palm Beach Symphony. Dr. Cox works tirelessly to advocate for her students and to provide them with access to world-class music education experience despite a lack of funding and resources. In her four years at Lake Worth High School, Dr. Cox has fundraised and received grant funding that totals over $200,000 for her band program. She is a kind, caring, and compassionate educator who demonstrates incredible dedication to the wellbeing of her students, their families, and the community.

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