Two Niskayuna High School teachers’ eyes glimmered with surprise and a smile could be made out just behind their masks Friday afternoon as they were presented during their classes with the 18th annual Murray Award for excellence in education by the Niskayuna Community Foundation.
“Being a foreign language teacher I’m speechless,” said Victor Alcantara, who teaches world language and has been at the school for 21 years.
The award, which was presented by Niskayuna Community Foundation board member Denise Kensky, was created in 2004 by Kathy Murray Crowe and Jeanne Murray Veasey, the daughters of Edward and Sally Murray, who were involved in establishing the award for the high school.
“They believed that providing the finest education required hiring the most creative, driven and inspirational teachers,” states a press release from the foundation.
A committee that represented students, parents and peers of the high school decided the recipients of this year’s awards. The committee looked at the various avenues teachers have taken to foster education in students and inspire them, as well as the faculty of the school.
“This year’s discussions also focused on how teachers have gone above and beyond to care for their students during COVID-19 and hybrid learning,” the release states.
“I know it has been a little while since you have had me in French class, but I still vividly remember all the different ways you embedded the French culture into our daily class routine,” said Aiden Graham. “No matter what we were doing in class, we were always able to improve our French listening and comprehension while getting an authentic ‘French’ experience in the classroom.”
He recalled watching the French cartoon Tchoupi as just one of many great memories from having Alcantara as his teacher.
English teacher Annemarie Ihnatolya said she did not expect the award at all and remembers hearing over the years of teachers who had received the award and how much their students loved them. She has worked at the school for 17 years and said during the pandemic she just wanted to make sure every student felt comfortable.
“Everyone is overwhelmed right now with the pandemic,” she said.
It was her empathy during the pandemic that resonated with students.
“You always made sure you stayed in the know with everything going on in our lives and were eager to hear about how we were doing each day,” said Carly Dell. “You were able to make students feel comfortable enough to unmute, which I’m sure as most teachers know is a very difficult task.”
Both teachers received engraved plaques and $2,500 to spend on their professional development.