Thursday, August 27, 2015

Teacher of the Year - Andrew D'Avanzo

For his outstanding work at Blackstone Valley Prep,  Andrew (Andy) D'Avanzo was the most recent recipient of our Teacher of the Year award. As we look towards the start of a new school year, we took a moment to ask him some questions about his work. 

Mr. D'Avanzo is a 3rd grade teacher at Blackstone Valley Prep's (BVP) Elementary School 2. He graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Spanish and International Relations from Brown University in 2011 and is a former member of their soccer team. He still enjoys playing in his free time. In the fall of 2009, Mr. D'Avanzo studied abroad in Havana, Cuba, where he taught English to adults in his community. 

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What inspired you to teach?

I actually never planned on getting into teaching. I come from a family of educators and most of my childhood was spent on the campus of a private boarding school in Massachusetts. I went to college thinking about law school and I thought about going into finance for a while. Even though I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do, I was convinced that I wanted to be in a lucrative line of work. During the summer before my junior year, I enrolled in study abroad program in Havana, Cuba through Brown University. It was a very eye opening experience. I met so many amazing people who were so content with so little. It really changed the way that I thought about my future and made me realize that my personal experience had been so limited and my world view was so narrow and self-serving. In the summer after my junior year, I stumbled across BVP. They were in their first year and looking for interns and teaching assistants for their summer academy. Desperate for a summer job and figuring it would be something like a summer camp, I inquired and set up a time to visit the school to meet with Jeremy, the Executive Director, and the staff. I quickly realized that this was not an ordinary school. I was so impressed and intrigued by the things kindergartners were capable of. After 3 weeks of summer academy I returned in the fall as an intern and became more interested in public education. With guidance, and a gentle nudge from Jeremy, I applied to Teach for America, got placed in Rhode Island and haven't looked back since. The same realization that first struck me has always guided my development and inspired me to continue working in education - when kids are given a fair chance and the tools to succeed, they are capable of amazing things.

What is your "why" for being at BVP? 

My "why" is very simple. It's all about the relationships I've made with kids and their families. I get so much joy from the opportunity to have an impact on the lives of my students, and getting to be part of their stories is humbling. I've been able to develop real connections with so many amazing young people and wonderful families. Teaching at BVP presents a truly unique opportunity to engage with and learn from so many interesting people from so many different backgrounds. I learn something new every day and I have a lot of fun doing it. 

What is the experience like in your classroom? 

Hmmm....this one is a bit more difficult to describe. I hope I'm not inaccurate in saying that
my classroom is a balance of fun, craziness, silliness, hard work and determination. I've been lucky to work alongside some amazing teachers, so everything I'm about to describe is indicative of all teachers at BVP and not just me. We try to embody the motto "work hard, play hard." Learning should be fun and I want my students to know that it's okay to let loose and be crazy sometimes. But we're also here to learn and grow together, so we set very clear and ambitious goals for ourselves and our class as a whole. We also strive to build a supportive community and create an environment where everyone is comfortable being themselves, taking risks, and knowing they're part of a team.  On any given day, you could walk into our classroom and see everyone smiling, scholars leading discussions or working in groups, defending their opinions, correcting mistakes and having fun. 

What have you encountered that has helped you grow into the educator you are today? 

The most important thing I've realized is to be authentic. The teachers that I've learned the most from are the ones who allow their real personality through in everything. I always thought that it was important to develop my own "teaching persona." I would hear people say things like "teacher voice" and " teacher stare." I thought for a time that maybe I had to act differently in order to teach successfully. I'm not saying that those things aren't important, because I absolutely have developed my own repertoire of teacher tricks, but I've also realized that being your authentic self is the best way to make your teaching accessible to kids. It's so important to build trust and mutual respect with my students and the only way to do that is to treat each scholar as an individual. I strive to get to know all of my students as people. Sure it's important to know their academic strengths and weaknesses, but that's just a small part of who they are. They come through our doors as scholars, but they were people first. 

Congratulations Andy! BVP is proud to have you as a member of our team!

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