By ALEX MALM With her family in attendance Holliman Elementary School kindergarten teacher Jessica Bonneau was recognized as teacher of the year for the Warwick School Department during its Tuesday School Committee meeting. Each year school districts
With her family in attendance Holliman Elementary School kindergarten teacher Jessica Bonneau was recognized as teacher of the year for the Warwick School Department during its Tuesday School Committee meeting.
Each year school districts across the state name one teacher from their district as the teacher of the year and they then serve as a liaison between their school district and the Rhode Island Department of Education.
According to RIDE teachers of the year share information about state initiatives, attend full and half day professional learning sessions focused on leadership, and collaborate with other district teachers of the year from across the state. They also have the opportunity to submit an application to represent all Rhode Island teachers as the 2023 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year.
Bonneau received an email from RIDE last Tuesday inviting her to different cohort meetings. She knew that she had been nominated for the award but hadn’t been informed of the results. After reaching out to the district’s administration she found out that she indeed had won.
When she learned she won she said she was excited and shocked, mostly because she has great respect for the other teachers in Warwick.
“I’ve not worked with a teacher that's not amazing in this district,” she said.
Her career in Warwick began in 2012, when she was looking to work closer to her home in West Warwick. She was pregnant with her son and was teaching in Wakefield.
During that summer she interviewed for an open position at John Wickes Elementary School and got the job. Three years later she moved to Holliman after Wicks closed due to consolidation.
“I was sad when we closed but I’m happy to be here. This is a nice place to be. I haven’t met a single person that isn’t amazing,” she said.
Bonneau said she always wanted to become a teacher, and credited a lot of it to the teachers she had growing up in Bristol.
While all of her teachers were good, she said, one teacher in particular stood out the most.
“Mr.Gary Dione was the teacher that taught me that there could be a balance between learning and fun and he really cared about the kids and really put the kids first,” she said.
One thing that she liked in particular about his teaching style was that if a student was struggling he was tuned into that and would take care of it first before moving on.
“That kind of stuck with me I want to be that person I want to be that teacher that is in touch with the kids and the families and their needs,” she said.
Bonneau was nominated for the award by then Holliman Principal Joseph Coffey last spring.
“She is a truly dynamic, intelligent, hard-working, dedicated, and confident teacher, yet she remains extremely modest. She consistently exhibits a growth mindset, flexibility, empathy, and a strong desire to support the needs of all stakeholders (to include her colleagues). Jessica has a strong passion for meeting each of her student’s unique needs, something that stands out in every aspect of her interactions with them,” he wrote in his letter supporting her.
“With just one or two classroom visits any trained observer would note how Jessica thoroughly engages each of her students in technology-rich, student-centered, differentiated, CCSS-guided activities - all in a caring manner. Much of this is possible because of her insatiable appetite for professional growth, something she does both officially and unofficially,” he went onto state.
During the last couple of years Bonneau like other teachers had to adjust to doing distance and at times hybrid learning.
Because she was often teaching students through screens instead of in person she got to make connections with families more the last two years than ever before something she said was a silver lining.
“I have connections with parents from last year and the year before that I probably won’t ever have again because they were in my home and I was in their home, I really got to know them,” she said.
Bonneau said she tried to do what was necessary to keep students engaged while also understanding that everyone was dealing with their surroundings at home.
For example, students were very excited about Christmas, Bonneau said, so she decided to let students have their Christmas trees in their backgrounds during one of their morning meetings during distance learning. She got permission from all of the parents ahead of time.
Some parents expressed their appreciation for Bonneau by emailing Coffey. Some of those excerpts were in his nomination letter.
“Though I’m sure you are already aware of what an outstanding teacher Mrs. Bonneau is during normal times, I wanted to bring to your attention the degree to which she has gone above and beyond during this difficult time and let you know how grateful we are for her,” one parent wrote.
“Seeing the devotion Mrs. Bonneau has to teaching these kids blows my mind and quite honestly moves me to tears. She makes herself available to help not only the students but the parents as well. Always checking to make sure we understand how to use the different school programs and walking us through the new technology,” another parent wrote.
Teacher assistant Mary Burgess wrote in support of her nomination last spring.
“Although we are back to in-person learning, four days a week, we are still very far away from a normal kindergarten classroom. Our students are now seated at desks and do not participate in center activities, due to social distancing,” she wrote. “Despite the challenges this brings, Jess has been able to keep the kids very engaged all day long. The students are asked to actively participate in all lessons throughout the day. To say she makes learning fun is an understatement.”
Even though Burgess isn’t the one receiving the award, Bonneau said she wouldn’t be able to do what she does without her.
“I can’t do any of it without an effective, caring classroom teacher assistant, she is honestly and truly behind the scenes my right hand, and she’s a huge asset,” she said.