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Brooklyn Special Education Teacher Who Built His Own Virtual Classroom Wins $25K

Andrew Chiapetta taught himself coding to set up a classroom that would work for his students
Brooklyn Grand Prize Winner Andrew Chiappetta and Finalist Malika I. Johnson-Willis, Brooklyn New School PS146
Brooklyn 2020 Grand Prize Winner Andrew Chiappetta (R) and Finalist Malika I. Johnson-Willis, Brooklyn New School P.S. 146. Photo: Supplied.

A special education teacher at The Brooklyn New School P.S. 146 has been awarded $25,000 for excellence in teaching after he set up a virtual classroom specially for his students.

When COVID-19 hit, Andrew Chiappetta knew Google Classrooms would not be the best platform for his students to learn so he used his self-taught coding skills to build a website that functions as a virtual classroom.

Over the summer, he improved the site so that in the fall it included two-way direct communication with the students, individualized scheduling, video lessons, assignments and examples of classmates' work. T

he response was so positive — from students, parents and faculty — that the website is now being used by the entire grade.

He was one of five public school teachers across the five boroughs that won $25,000 each from FLAG Award for Teaching Excellence, as part of the organization's $315,000 in prizes for educators. 10 finalists were awarded $10,000 each, plus $2,000 for their schools.

Winning teachers in each borough transformed underfunded music programs, used science to promote advocacy, created technology to address student needs and renovated physical and virtual spaces to bring learning to life,

Glenn Fuhrman, co-founder of The FLAG Award for Teaching Excellence, said public school teacher always put their students first, saying "this year's winners proved that point and so much more."

"All of the teachers we've learned about through this process have shown that nothing — not even a global pandemic that took so much from so many — could stop them from innovating and creating spaces where students could learn, share, grow and thrive."

Co-founder Amanda Fuhrman added the five winning educators "spent their lives advocating for their students, making sure that their school experiences are supportive and engaging, and preparing them to be citizens of the world."

"We are excited to honor them."

The $25,000 cash prizes for the winners are for teachers' personal use. The additional school awards of $10,000 each are to be used for arts education initiatives with input from the winning teachers.

There are also 10 finalists who will receive $10,000 for their personal use and their schools will receive $2,000 each to use toward an arts-based initiative, and 20 semi-finalists will receive $500 for their personal use and their schools will receive $500 each. 

Chiappetta said he wanted his school to use its prize money to purchase and renovate a shipping container to serve as a school art gallery for student work, where older students would maintain the space and mentor younger student artists in it.

The FLAG Award for Teaching Excellence, which just completed its second year, received close to 1,000 nominations from students, parents, principals and colleagues. Thirty-five semifinalists were selected from the nominees, and they were required to complete a comprehensive application, participate in an interview process which included an interview with their principal and submit supplementary material.

An independent jury of education, community and philanthropic leaders, including Dr. Betty A. Rosa, Commissioner of Education and President of the University of the State of New York, selected the winners based on criteria that placed emphasis on the student experience. 


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