Ponaganset special education teacher receives Milken Educator Award

JENNIFER PAOLANTONIO, a special education teacher at Ponaganset High School in Scituate, received the Milken Educator Award from the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching in a special ceremony at the school on Jan. 15. / COURTESY MILKEN FAMILY FOUNDATION

SCITUATE – A Ponaganset High School special education teacher received national recognition for her efforts Jan. 15, and a large monetary prize in the process.

In a surprise ceremony in front of students, local and state school officials, Jennifer Paolantonio was presented with a Milken Educator Award by the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching. The award includes an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize. Paolantonio is among 40 such honorees across the United States – and the sole winner from Rhode Island – according to a media release.

“Today was a wonderful surprise,” Paolantonio said in an interview with the Milken Family Foundation, which oversees the award, after the Jan. 15 festivities. “I am completely speechless. As proud as I am standing here, I’m pushing it right back on my faculty and the students and the staff I work with because to get this award, everybody was involved. We have such a strong community here and I’m so proud to work here.”

Paolantonio, the release states, plans themed lessons for her students who have mild to moderate learning disabilities to help those students integrate into other classes based on their strengths and interests. In addition to allowing colleagues to observe her classroom to learn how to modify curriculums to include her students, Paolantonio also worked with Special Olympics to create a unified sports program at Ponaganset High School.

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She also traveled to China with students for the Special Olympics East Asia Summit to “advocate for full inclusion,” the release states.

In a statement, National Institute for Excellence in Teaching CEO Candice McQueen said Paolantonio is making excellence and inclusiveness an “everyday expectation” for her students and the school. R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said in a statement that Paolantonio is an advocate who “inspires her students and sets them up to thrive and succeed.”

Paolantonio will attend a Milken Educator Forum in Indianapolis in March to work with other educators to exchange ideas on the future of education.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com.

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