RSS Teachers Embark on Paul Druzinsky Teacher Enrichment Fund Award Journey

Established in 2013 to honor our third Head of School, The Paul Druzinsky Teacher Enrichment Fund Award helps RSS attract, retain, and reward outstanding faculty. Supported by the generosity of RSS families, the Paul Druzinsky Teacher Enrichment Fund provides two annual grants of up to $7,500 each to selected faculty members for one-of-a-kind, transformative experiences related to their fields.
 
Thanks to the generous support of these families, two RSS teachers returned this school year energized and inspired by professional development experiences that were transformative both personally and professionally. Two more were given the opportunity to realize those same goals.
Ana Turkienicz, Elementary Hebrew Head Teacher and Learning Specialist and John Parente, Middle School Science Department Chair, both were recipients of the 2015-2016 Druzinsky Fund Grants. Each crafted unique and engaging proposals for international experiences that related to their curriculum, and were awarded individually with over $7,500 to pursue their professional development goals.
 
Turkienicz traveled to Cuba to teach Hebrew to the small community of Cuban Jews in Havana, and Parente ventured to the Galapagos Islands to learn firsthand about natural selection and evolution.
 
This school year, Gabrielle Mitchell, Head Kindergarten Teacher, won a grant to take part in The Weaving Kind Makerie Weaving Retreat in Boulder, Colorado this summer. Anita Keshavan, Middle School Math Teacher, and Cheryl Fricchione, Math Coordinator, also won a grant with their joint proposal to travel to Europe in hopes of exploring the interplay between art and math in the Golden Ratio of Phi. 
 
 
Teaching Hebrew to the Disenfranchised and Learning Lessons of Jewish Survival
 
“As a Jewish Educator and a Latino born Jew, I have always been fascinated by the story of the Jewish Community in Cuba,” Turkienicz says. Her position as a Hebrew Learning Specialist at Rodeph Sholom School provided something powerful to the Jewish Cuban community: a path to Hebrew literacy by using the Phonetic Hebrew Decoding Method, which was created here at RSS.
 
I constantly asked myself how they managed to keep their Judaism alive under Fidel Castro’s ruling, because the Jewish community in Cuba has been barred for many years from accessing Jewish education. With the help of the Druzinsky grant, I volunteered for a month in the summer of 2016 with the Cuban Jewish community, teaching conversational, liturgical and biblical Hebrew to adults and children. By applying the PHD (Phonetic Hebrew Decoding) method, which we use with great success at RSS in the Elementary Division, I helped members of the Cuban Jewish community get closer to Judaism, using the Hebrew language as a portal to Jewish sources and traditions.”
 
Turkienicz also empowered local leaders/educators to continue the Hebrew learning process after she left. By teaching Phonetic Hebrew Decoding, her students were able to impart their knowledge to others in the Cuban Jewish community.
 
The Official Jewish Community of Cuba's Bulletin wrote of Ana’s impact:
 
"What Ana did here in Cuba was a true accomplishment. Our talmidim (students) and morim (teachers) are unanimous when they describe it - Ana knew how to reach each one and every one of us with much love and patience; with pedagogy and professionalism. Most importantly, Ana taught us about her role as an educator, combining wisdom, knowledge, commitment, humility, charisma, perseverance and excellent human quality - she is a role model for everyone. We will never forget Ana Turkienicz’s beautiful gesture; she came to Cuba to teach and gave her heart."
 
Mazel tov, Ana!
 
Exploring Natural Selection and Evolution in the Galápagos Islands
 
John Parente was always fascinated with the process of evolution.  As Chair of the Middle School Science Department, Parente holds a degree in Molecular Biology and Genetics – in school, he was intrigued how selective pressures coupled with random genetic mutations can lead to unique and different traits in populations.
 
“When thinking about a trip, I couldn’t think of a more interesting place to see evolution through a history of genes firsthand,” Parente says.
 
“The Galápagos Islands offer a unique insight into how natural selection and evolution work – they inspired Darwin’s Origin of Species! Darwin saw how new unique traits emerged from a single population due to the remoteness of the islands. While many traits exist within large and diverse populations, the specialization seen within the islands is rare to witness so clearly. The islands offer a chance to observe how very small specific ecosystems can cause vast changes between species.”
 
The Galápagos Archipelago, Darwin's living laboratory, is home to an abundance of wildlife. Isolated from the mainland for millions of years, it is a rare wilderness where animals have no instinctive fear of humans. Traveling aboard the National Geographic Expedition, Parente was able to experience up close encounters with unique species such as flightless cormorants, marine iguanas, and domed giant tortoises.
 
For photos and slideshows from Ana and John’s trips, click here.
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