Sugarland Elementary School teacher Jillian Ronci stood in between rows of students in the school’s auditorium Friday, May 4, anxiously awaiting a surprise announcement from the principal, Angela Robinson. What Ronci didn’t know was that the surprise was on her.
The fourth-grade teacher was named Wal-Mart and Sam's Club Foundation’s Teacher of the Year Friday, May 4, in honor of National Teacher’s Day Tuesday, May 8.
"I was completely shocked," she said. "I was wondering what was going on?"
Ronci knew something was up when she heard her 2-year-old son Max’s cry over a student-filled auditorium.
"Some of the teachers were trying to distract me as my family walked through the door," she said. "My husband knew the whole time."
WITH THAT SURPRISE came a cash reward of $1,000 for the Sterling-area school and a $100 gift card for Ronci to buy classroom supplies.
While the principal and her staff have not decided how to use the money yet, Ronci said she will buy supplies for her class next year, when she moves to the second grade. She will also buy her current students end-of-the-year gifts.
"I love what I do," she said. "I know a lot of people that wake up in the morning and dread going to work, but I’m the complete opposite."
The best part of Ronci’s job, she said, is watching students grow and learn.
"It’s the lightbulb moment that makes it all worthwhile," she said.
Ronci, who is in her second year of teaching, said she would not be able to achieve the success she does without the team of teachers she collaborates with in the classroom on a daily basis.
"It really is a group effort. I can’t take all the credit," she said. "This school is pretty special and we can really use that money."
ANOTHER STERLING elementary-school teacher was honored with the same award. Melissa Tarlowski, a fourth-grade teacher at Meadowland Elementary School, was nominated for Teacher of the Year by a handful of students from past and present classes.
Like Ronci, she said she had no idea about the award until her principal, Laura Seck, made the announcement at a basketball game last month.
"It didn’t even dawn on me that I was receiving the award. It took a minute to sink in after the principal said my name," she said. "I received a big round of applause. It’s just so kind."
Tarlowski always knew she wanted to be a teacher. She said her fourth-grade teacher Jean Rumfield at Alpha Public School in New Jersey inspired her to be a fourth-grade teacher.
"I have the perfect job," she said. "I always wanted to be a fourth-grade teacher because of her."
The best part about her job, she said, is watching the children grow over the course of a year and to know that she had some sort of impact on them.
Tarlowski plans to put part of the $1,000 reward toward the Meadowland Elementary School’s Angel Network. The Angel Network provides money to families who are in crisis.
"If a family experiences a death or a really bad fire, the Angel Network might be able to step in," she said. "I want to be able to contribute to that."
She will apply the $100 gift card to classroom supplies and books.
"For me, it’s just a great honor," she said.
THE WAL-MART AND Sam's Club Foundation sponsored the Teacher of the Year Program for the 12th year in a row. The group awarded 36 teachers from across the state with cash rewards. In total Wal-Mart contributed $36,000 to Virginia schools and $158,000 throughout the Washington, D.C.-metropolitan area.