2013-05-09 / News

Third-grade teacher at Melrose named island’s teacher of year

Jay Juhnowski has taught in Jamestown since 2010

Third-grade teacher Jay Juhnowski is congratulated by his students after being named Jamestown’s teacher of the year. 
PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Third-grade teacher Jay Juhnowski is congratulated by his students after being named Jamestown’s teacher of the year. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Jay Juhnowski, in just his fourth year teaching at Melrose Avenue School, has been chosen as James­town’s 2013-14 teacher of the year. After one year of teaching fourth grade, he has been teach­ing third grade at Jamestown’s el­ementary school since 2010.

He is the third recipient of the award, which was initiated by Su­perintendent of Schools Marcia Lukon. Music educator Marilyn Hostetler won the award for 2011- 12, and Lawn Avenue School math teacher Nick Alfred was named top teacher in 2012-13.

According to Lukon, a teacher of the year hadn’t been identified in Jamestown for as far back as she could go in the records. She encouraged the district to get in­volved in the process of recogniz­ing outstanding teachers. Criteria was established for the award, and all staff members were invited to nominate teachers. A volunteer committee was formed to review the nominations and select the teacher of the year. At first Lukon led the committee, but at this point it is a completely teacher-led ef­fort.

“Jay is an excellent choice to represent our district,” Lukon said. “I’m proud to say that I was part of hiring him to join our faculty. He has a very positive outlook on ev­erything. He’s focusing on what’s good here and using it to build and improve. He’s a very dedicated teacher.”

Juhnowski grew up in Warwick and went to Pilgrim High School. He attended the University of Rhode Island where he majored in elementary education. He gradu­ated in 2005. Juhnowski began his teaching career as a substitute in North Kingstown. He currently lives in Cranston with his wife, who works for the state lottery. The couple had their first child in January.

Juhnowski recalls when he was a youngster his mother would babysit in the family home. He said he acted as a “big brother” for the day-care children. He later became a teenage mentor to his younger brother. He credits those experiences, along with his work as a youth baseball coach and um­pire, with inspiring him to become a teacher.

“I was so used to being around children,” Juhnowski said. “I was comfortable around them and that made me want to work with them.”

At first Juhnowski hoped to teach at a sixth-grade level, and perhaps specialize in math. But since landing his role at Melrose, he is happy teaching third grade and said he wouldn’t change it for anything.

On a typical school day, Juh­nowski will arrive before his stu­dents and get his reading and math centers set up. He has students working independently on com­puter assignments, and parents come in to volunteer. He meets with smaller math and reading groups that have four or five stu­dents each. He then determines which areas they need to continue to work on, and which areas they have mastered. For writing, sci­ence and social studies, he meets with his entire class, which has 17 students.

Juhnowski points to positive re­inforcement as a major factor in his success as a teacher. As an ex­ample, he cites the class store that he runs. At the end of each day students earn “class cash” based on their behavior and participa­tion. At the end of the week they can go to the class store and pur­chase trinkets based on the money they earned that week.

“It teaches students coin values and monetary values, and whether or not they need to save or pur­chase something that week,” Juh­nowski said.

Juhnowski said he has enjoyed his experience teaching in James­town. Since it is his first full-time job, he says there are certain things that are not what he thought they’d be. But all in all, he enjoys each day. He says along with his fellow teachers, they are working hard as a district to meet the new chal­lenges that they face, including the institution of the state’s new core curriculum.

“We’re scored on our student’s performance on different aca­demic tests and our principal’s observation during scheduled and unscheduled visits to our class­room.”

Juhnowski said he was humbled by the award, particularly at such an early stage in his career. At the same time it made him realize that there were things he could contin­ue to improve.

Melrose Principal Carrie Me­lucci was part of the hiring com­mittee that brought Juhnowski into her school four years ago. She said he is extremely organized and structured in his teaching.

“Jay is an outstanding teacher,” Melucci said. “He is actively in­volved in a wide range of things at the school. He has been an active member of the school improve­ment team. He is very kind and pa­tient with his students. Jay is very creative as well, and he has a natu­ral ability to keep his students at­tentive, engaged and always learn­ing. I’m really excited for him. It’s well deserved.”

The names of the local winners are submitted to the Rhode Island Department of Education for state­wide consideration. Participation in the state competition is optional because it involves a good deal of extra work for a teacher. Juhnows­ki anticipates doing the necessary work.

He is designated as the 2014 winner locally because by the time the statewide winner is an­nounced, it will be next year. The state’s teacher of the year becomes eligible for national consideration.

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