Opening the minds and touching the hearts of the future generation

Can passion be taught?

Certainly not in the case of Catherine Downey, a fifth grade teacher at P.S 128 in Bensonhurst, and proud recipient of the First Citywide Big Apple Award, whose innate passionate soul touches many kids’ lives on a daily basis.

Eager to get up and go to work every morning, Downey, a humble, young and ambitious teacher, dedicates her love and compassion to the 10-year-olds who depend on her.

“I’m asked if I have any kids—and my answer is: Yes, 31 of them,” she laughed, referring to her graduating class.

Downey was one of 11 winners selected on a citywide level by a board of judges–composed of Department of Education officials, along with representatives from the United Federation of Teachers, the New York City Charter School Center, Columbia University, Lincoln Center and TNTP.

In all, more than 2,000 nominations were submitted by students, families, teachers, school staff, administrators and other community members to recognize outstanding teachers in public schools; the prize for the winners — $3,500 “to deepen their work with students.”

“I was very shocked—it is such an honor; [it] feels surreal,” the teacher remarked.

Downey was actually teaching her students about the Mayan social caste structure utilizing chocolate and candy when the judges paid a visit to her classroom. Their minds were blown away at the engaging technique.

“We have routines and rituals; [the students] know what’s expected of them,” the fifth grade teacher explained the reason for the kids not eating the candy while being taught.

The hands-on activities that Downey uses are simply an example of makes her the one-of-kind teacher that she is. Eleven of her 31 students in her class this year were ESL students, encouraging her to go out of her way to help them succeed.

Downey’s love and passion for her students runs in the family. Her mom has taught in St. Anselm’s for over 20 years as a seventh and eighth grade teacher.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg who presented the honorees with their awards on June 11 said: “I am thrilled to present these awards to honor and celebrate these inspirational educators. Whether it’s at an elementary school in Bensonhurst or a high school in Harlem, the Big Apple Award recipients exemplify the best of our New York City teaching corps – the biggest, most diverse and talented group of teachers in our nation.”

The other winners were: Silvestre Arcos, Patrick Berry, Erika Bogdany, Damion Clark, Kristin Ferrales, Marietta Geraldino, Stephen Jackson, Deborah Laster, Kimberly McCorkell and Melissa Salguero.

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