OCEAN CITY — It’s been 25 years since Worcester County began to formally recognize and crown a Teacher of the Year and, in the largest ceremony to date, Worcester Technical High School (WTHS) teacher Tony Bevilacqua brought home the 2012 award.
“Tonight is a celebration of 25 years,” said 2000 Teacher of the Year Brenda Hommel on Friday night.
With a record-breaking 377 attendees in attendance last Friday at the Clarion Hotel, Bevilacqua had the torch passed down to him by the 2011 Teacher of the year Jennifer Stills. He is only the third Worcester award winner to hail from WTHS.
A history and language arts teacher of 11 years, Bevilacqua has been at WTHS for two of those years teaching Social Studies, though he is also certified to teach English and English as a Second Language. He graduated with two Bachelor of Arts degrees from the College of Charleston, a Masters from Virginia Commonwealth University and is pursuing a Masters from Salisbury University.
After accepting the award, he stressed the importance of keeping the focus of schools on giving students a well-rounded education instead of just teaching them how to do well on standardized testing.
“Changing lives, to me, means instilling a lifelong love of learning,” said Bevilacqua.
Too often, students have their curiosity shut down in favor of keeping them on track to do well on tests, he asserted. Instead, Bevilacqua encourages students and teachers to consider all aspects of a problem, including “social, political, economic, and cultural religious issues.”
According to his portfolio, Bevilacqua strives to build a “bridge from insensitivity and ignorance to cultural awareness and tolerance” for his students. He emphasized that studies show that the better a teacher is the higher the lifetime earnings of their students.
Bevilacqua joins a long-line of distinguished Worcester educators dating back to 1988, 20 of which were on hand for the awards ceremony, another record for the county.
Stills told the crowd that Bevilacqua is in for one of the most interesting years of his life.
“Tonight is just the beginning … You’ll have frequent opportunities to put us on the map,” she promised.
Now that he’s cinched the Worcester educational system’s top honors, Bevilacqua is in the running for Maryland Teacher of the Year as well. However, whether or not he brings home that honor, Stills assured Bevilacqua that 2012 will be a year full of learning and growth.
“I’m a better teacher and a better person because of this opportunity I was given,” she said.
Bevilacqua will be an “ambassador” for Worcester, Stills added. He will have the chance to do a lot of traveling in the next year, visiting other school districts and sharing teaching techniques with educators in other counties.
While it was a festive occasion, there was something bittersweet about the ceremony for two reasons.
First, while 20 years’ worth of award winners gathered together last Friday, several former award winners have passed away. Time was taken during the ceremony to remember those that couldn’t be there.
“Our Worcester County Teachers of the Year possess the highest standards … We honor them and we thank them for their service,” said Coordinator of Public Relations and Special Programs Barbara Witherow.
2012 also marks the last year that Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes and Assistant Superintendent for Administration Ed Barber will be officially taking part in the ceremony. Both plan to retire at the end of this school year.
"With tough economic times, tightening operating budgets, education reform, and diminishing resources, educators need a positive ambassador more than ever," said Andes. "We need to celebrate, lift up, and praise teachers and the teaching profession. Their impact is immeasurable. I still attribute much of my success to my third grade teacher."
Bevilacqua, along with the teachers of the year from all the jurisdictions in Maryland, will be in the running for state award, which will be named in October.
To see more photos from the event, see www.facebook.com/thedispatchoc