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Finalists for INK! Teacher of the Year awards named in St. Augustine

INK!’s (Investing in Kids) 2020-2021 Teacher of the Year awards campaign is a special recognition program to honor educators in St. Johns County, Fla. public schools. The St. Johns County Education Foundation, which operates as INK! had a group of  panelists who recently interviewed nominees with more than three years in the classroom. On Wednesday, January 6, INK! board members, staff and volunteers along with St. Johns County School District Superintendent Tim Forson and officials visited schools and recognized the following teachers as finalists for outstanding demonstration of instructional skills, student interaction, professional excellence, and importance in the lives of hundreds of students.

Allison Birbal teaches at R.J. Murray Middle School - photo

Allison Birbal from R.J. Murray Middle School

Finalist recipients include Allison Birbal, a sixth-grade science teacher at R.J. Murray Middle School with more than 10 years of experience as an educator. Birbal has presented at various conferences including the Southern Regional Education Board “High Schools That Work” conference as a featured presenter. She has previously been named Teacher of the Year at R.J. Murray Middle School and Pacetti Bay Middle School. Birbal’s teaching philosophy includes when a child’s well-being takes precedent, educational success will follow. She added, students must view school as a second home where they feel cared for, safe, and loved. Birbal believes learning cannot begin, especially during a global pandemic, without these specific basic needs to be met first. Birbal is an avid STEM educator who believes that teaching students through the interconnected disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics opens doors for them that were previously closed, and sparks a sense of curiosity in all children. She resides in St. Augustine, Fla.

Andrea M. O'Brien teaches at Durbin Creek Elementary School - photo

Andrea M. O’Brien from Durbin Creek Elementary School

Also, finalist Andrea M. O’Brien, is a pre-kindergarten through fifth grade library media specialist at Durbin Creek Elementary School with more than 19 years of teaching experience. She holds numerous honors and awards for instructional delivery, teacher of the year in elementary education, head coach for students in reading with the Battle of the Books team, and promoting books in school and home, among others. According to O’Brien, her philosophy about teaching is to make sure that each student knows that she loves them and their appreciation for books, reading, and to create a strong bond between herself and her students. She uses a school-wide management program set up to focus on rewarding general positive behaviors overall and activities related to the library.

She recently received a grant for a Book Vending Machine in order to support the initiative, from Community First Cares Foundation and INK! (Investing in Kids). O’Brien believes that kindness and positive reinforcement will inspire a mutual feeling of acceptance and respect to promote a positive learning environment. She resides in St. Augustine, Fla.

Alicia Ali Pressel teaches at Creekside High School - photo

Alicia Ali Pressel from Creekside High School

Finalist Alicia “Ali” Pressel, has been teaching at Creekside High School since 2008. She teaches four levels within the St. Johns County Career Academies program, the Academy of Environmental Sciences, and Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science. She sponsors the Environmental Club and the Geospatial Mapping Club at Creekside and works with multiple community business partners to bring grant opportunities, internships, and job shadow experiences to her students to promote career readiness. She is a regular speaker on project-based learning and STEM initiatives at national conferences. In addition to serving on the Teacher Advisory Council with the National Geographic Society, Pressel was recently named a 2020 National Geographic Emerging Explorer for her work integrating mapping software and “place-based learning” within the environmental science career academy program at Creekside. Pressel resides in Jacksonville, Fla.

The countywide awards program builds community awareness of the region’s best educators. The St. Johns County Teacher of the Year winner will be named during a virtual event on Thursday, January 27 with an opportunity to apply for the overall Florida Teacher of the Year program. The St. Johns County winner will receive various awards including a new car from Beaver Toyota St. Augustine.

An inaugural yearbook provided by All American Air Charitable Foundation (AAACF), a 501c3 organization in St. Augustine, Fla. and Leonard’s Photography has been produced and includes Teacher of the Year and Rookie Teacher of the Year nominees, finalists and winners along with testimonials from the community, sponsors, and more. The book will be in full color with photo collages and lighthearted moments all reflecting teacher and student life, and campaign highlights, to name a few. Comments collected with online messages about heartfelt thanks to area teachers will be featured in the yearbook with the submitter’s name, family, and business with each entry.

INK! provides innovative programs and classroom resources to support academic success for all St. Johns County public schools. For the 2020-2021 school year, there are 56 public schools in the County, serving 40,734 students with more than 2,500 teachers. The nonprofit is located at 1 Christopher St. in St. Augustine. For more information about the awards and yearbooks, contact Donna Lueders at 904-547-7120 or email su.lf.21k.snhojts@sredeuL.annoD. Visit the website at www.ink-stjohns.org.

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