Andrew Coates demonstrates the values of teacher as hero. 

The National Liberty Museum Celebrates Remarkable Educators at 14th Annual ‘Teacher as Hero’ Awards, Sponsored by State Farm

Ten Educators from Four States Honored for Inspiring, Educating and Motivating Students

PHILADELPHIA -- The National Liberty Museum honored ten winners of the 14th annual Teacher as Hero Award, sponsored by State Farm. The educators were honored at a virtual award ceremony at the National Liberty Museum on Saturday, Oct. 24.

The Teacher as Hero Award recognizes outstanding educators who represent best practices in teaching and serve as role models to their colleagues and students. The  winners will become part of a dedicated museum exhibit for one year. Their achievements and inspiring stories will be shared with the tens of thousands of visitors who come to the museum from across the region and from all over the world.

Winners will receive a family membership to the NLM, a guided tour of the museum for the teacher’s class, the teacher’s statement of excellence featured in the NLM’s 2020 Teacher as Hero exhibit, and a commemorative glass trophy. In addition, three winners, selected from the ten winners and announced at the ceremony, in the categories of Service Learning, Driver Education initiatives, and Overall Excellence in Teaching will each receive $500.

Each of the winning teachers was chosen from among 37 national applications. Fellow educators, school administrators, students and community members nominated the teachers and shared stories of how they each made a positive impact in the community. 

The Exceptional Teacher Award is presented to outstanding educators who leverage their excellence in teaching to make a difference in the lives of their students. These teachers are recognized for fostering an appreciation for diversity in the classroom, teaching students how to resolve conflicts responsibly, giving students a deeper understanding of the relationships between rights and responsibilities, and honoring student voices in the classroom and public spaces.

The Caring Classroom Award is presented to educators who integrate community service into the classroom to increase student civic engagement by meaningfully incorporating and championing student voices into the student learning process.

The Good Neighbor Award is presented to a teacher who has initiated or teaches driver safety by helping teen drivers understand that driving is a responsibility as well as privilege.

2020 Teacher As Hero Award Recipients:

Virginia Barbarin, who teaches Middle School African American History at Chester County’s Seba Enrichment Academy. With humor and compassion, Barbarin serves as a mentor or tutor to many students, often providing supplies, at her own expense, to those in need. Her lessons inspire her student and encourage them to strive for excellence as they learn about their history, even if it is hard to face unpleasant truths about the history of slavery.

Andrew Coates, a fifth-grade teacher at Overlook Elementary School in Abington, whose gift and passion for teaching makes each student feel special and successful. Making full and creative use of a plethora of internet resources, his daily teaching grounds his student in exposure to and understanding of current technologies.

Kelly Espinoza, a Kindergarten teach at Montgomery County’s Musselman Learning Center. After a devastating fire killed a student from the school, Espinoza galvanized the school community and the local fire department to distribute and install free smoke detectors for Norristown citizens. Inspired by this success she spearheaded an annual school fire safety education night with fire prevention education and risk education strategies offered to the children and their parents.

Sofia Gonzalez, an 11th grade English at Morton East High School in Cicero, IL whose boundless energy is evident not only in her classroom but also in her guidance of student club activities, including Snowball, designed to help students begin or continue to live a healthy lifestyle.

Paul Larrea, who teaches Science/STEM to grades six through eight at Our Lady of Mercy Regional Catholic School in Maple Glen. The Director of STEM education and a member of the Student Safety Committee of the school’s Governance Board, Larrea infuses high levels of content and educational strategies with humor and profound respect for each child. Known for innovation, creativity and a keen knowledge of best practices that will ignite his students, he is engaging in ways that help even the most reluctant learners become more focused and involved in their own education.

Jennifer Morris, an English as a Second Language teacher for K-8th graders at Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in Kensington. Concerned that the Hispanic population lacked a specific cultural connection to the school, Morris decided to incorporate the Hispanic culture into the daily school activities by conducting part of the daily announcements in Spanish. She expanded this first step of inclusion into a month-long Hispanic Heritage Month, incorporating cultural awareness with educationally relevant lessons and a Hispanic Heritage Career Expo and culminating in Carnival De Bethune, where students were immersed in the Hispanic culture with food, games, crafts and a student-made Heritage Museum.

Sasha Singh, a 12-year veteran teacher of 10-12th grade Automotive Technology at Jules Mastbaum High School who creates an environment of trust and partnership with his students. His active volunteerism for Hispanic community events inspires his students to participate in community service activities in school and in the community. His former students are still motivated by his example and return to the school to participate in the Occupational Advisory Committee and as mentors for his students.

Melissa Tracy, who teaches 10th-12th grade History, Geography, African American History, and Food Studies at Wilmington’s Odyssey Charter School. Nominated by a three-year student, Tracy has incorporated her passion for activism into her teaching. Advocating for a more green school campus, she encouraged her AP Human Geography class to meet with Delaware legislators and successfully lobbied for a ban on single-use plastic bags. Tracy also developed a school garden with the Environmental Club, culminating in 1,000 pounds of fresh vegetables donated to various local food banks and shelters to date.

Katherine Villone, a fourth grade teacher at Franklin Elementary School in Bergenfield, NJ, was recognized for her dedicated acts of kindness and compassion, and for her ability to mentor and build up every child she meets. During the pandemic, Villone has continuously focused on her students’ well-being, holding numerous virtual game nights and Zoom calls to keep spirits high. She visited each of her students with birthday surprises and made sure they were doing well, serving as a role model, friend and inspiration at these challenging times.

Elizabeth William, an African American history teacher at Central High School, engages her students by making sure they are learning in a way that speaks to their needs as students from multiple cultural backgrounds. Pre-pandemic, Williams coached the school’s basketball team, sponsored the Black Youth Coalition, and worked with students to create a school Fashion Show, and with the school closure was one of the first teachers to support to students’ participation in a virtual history class.

About the National Liberty Museum

Located in the heart of historic Philadelphia, the National Liberty Museum brings liberty to life through stories of people whose character and courage have expanded liberty for all. The Museum’s exhibits, educational experiences and public programs inspire visitors to think about liberty as an ongoing human quest that we all share. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.

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