Princeton Unified Middle School
Nominated by Kristina Donovan, Supervisor of School Counseling
Thomas Foley is a school counselor for Princeton Unified Middle School and has been teaching for over 3 years! He’s been an integral part of making sure Princeton Unified is a middle school that’s inclusive for all students. Since last March, he’s made sure to meet with every student via zoom, and as of recently, in person, providing comprehensive counseling services for them and their families.
He co-founded the club SAGA (Sexuality and Gender Alliance) and has held weekly meetings at night, and even during summer months so everyone could stay connected! Thomas teaches “#choices” where he empowers every voice and challenges students to show empathy and think critically of the world around them.
Thomas is held in high regard by students and fellow teachers. He’s always willing to collaborate and share ideas to help other educators and will often take other courses on his own to keep him informed on new practices and innovative ways to always be on top of his chosen profession.
The students know he loves them, supports them, and also challenges them to be the best they can be. For all these reasons and more, Thomas Foley is a “Teacher Who Makes Magic!”
4th Grade Teacher
Johnson Park Elementary School
Nominated by Angela Siso Stentz, Principal
James Myricks is a 4th Grade Teacher at Johnson Park Elementary School in Princeton and is one of those teachers that has tremendous energy and love for his students. He goes above and beyond to make sure his students are happy and safe because he knows this is the foundation to be able to learn.
He is creative, fun, and his classroom environment is warm and welcoming. Students, parents, and colleagues think the world of him. He sets high expectations for his students and challenges them because he truly believes that every student will be successful in his classroom.
He works closely with parents and colleagues to make sure children are at the center of all decisions. He is a wonderful educator; constantly learning and willing to take on anything that will help make him a better teacher. He asks questions, takes risks, and is a natural leader.
James knows his students' strengths and weaknesses and provides lots of support. He’s available after the school day has ended, and answers all emails or calls regarding students’ abilities, and is willing to help anyone who needs it. He makes sure all students have everything they need to succeed in the classroom and beyond!
For all these reasons and many more, James Myricks is a “Teacher Who Makes Magic!"
As a part of our ongoing efforts to recognize the accolades received by our staff, we are proud to highlight, Dr. Joy Barnes-Johnson, PHS teacher and winner of a "Tribute to Women" award from the YWCA.
The Tribute to Women Awards is a signature YWCA Princeton event that was established in 1984 and has since honored exemplary women from the Greater Mercer County area who embody the YWCA mission, have demonstrated sustained leadership and exceptional talent, and who have made significant contributions to their professions.
Dr. Joy Barnes-Johnson currently works in secondary education and consults for several racial literacy, STEM education and training projects. Dr. Barnes-Johnson has taught in formal and out-of-school settings for more than twenty years spending much of that time focused on chemistry, material science, environmental science, and STEM related humanities studies. She has published several articles that address teacher preparation, policy and curriculum design and has led professional development programs at various practitioner levels. Recent conference presentations allow her to continue the expansion of work that intersects sociology and science education. She has worked as a program manager and field specialist for various grant programs including her own experiences as an undergraduate research student. She was recently honored by the New Jersey Education Association with the 2019 MLK Jr. Human & Civil Rights Award. She currently serves on the Boards for the Paul Robeson House of Princeton (Program Committee) and CHOOSE organization.
Math teacher at Princeton Unified Middle School
Nominated by Stephenie Tidwell, Supervisor of Mathematics and Business Education
Ms. Waddell is in her first year at Princeton Public Schools. However, as a teacher with 17 years of experience, she has been a superstar since day one. She has dedicated her time to build teacher-to-student and student-to-student relationships in her classroom. When she recognized that some of her students were having a more difficult time with the challenges of virtual learning than others, she established a Friday bi-weekly virtual game night for student wellness. She is dedicated to building relationships with the students and making sure that they know she cares about them regardless of their situations or circumstances. To build students’ confidence Ms. Waddell began hosting bi-weekly zoom meetings for students to play the virtual game Among Us. She hosted as many as 50 kids at a time during her “Take the load off: Open game night” events. This small act of kindness has changed many students’ mindsets about their identities as learners. Students who were previously not engaged in class became more conscious about completing and submitting work, others who would not turn on their cameras during class, turned them on and became more participatory. In fact, students spoke so well of her actions that the school PTO asked Ms. Waddell to assist them in running a schoolwide “Take the load off: Open game night”. This event attracted over 250 students, many teachers, and numerous parents. She has stated, “I want kids to want to be in my class, and always come to my class. I invite all students regardless of their work effort during the week because you never know what a child or their family may be going through.”
She has been just as dedicated when working with her colleagues. The district moved to a new learning management system this school year and Ms. Waddell immediately volunteered to become an edTech mentor. During grade-level meetings, you can find her working with colleagues creating lessons for the virtual environment. Additionally, she has trained teachers during district professional development days on how to effectively use educational technology for student engagement and to foster student learning. She is a truly dedicated teacher that goes above and beyond for students.
4th Grade Teacher
Riverside Elementary School
Nominated by Keisha Smith-Carrington, Supervisor of Humanities
Gita Varadarajan teaches 4th grade at Riverside Elementary School in Princeton, and students love her because she creates a learning community that encourages risk-taking and brave conversations.
As a published author, Gita understands the importance of writing as a means of engaging in deep thought and expression. She brings important events and occurrences into the classroom and encourages students to ask the questions circling through their minds; questions others often shrink from when posed by children. In her room, these critical conversations move into research projects of varying length. Her students have tackled topics like Civil Rights, climate control, and voting with questions shaped by current events in our world.
Gita is a teacher that students find years after they have left her class. On many mornings and afternoons prior to the pandemic, students could be found in her room. Sometimes the students were there to get support with challenging homework. Often, they were just engaging in conversation knowing hers was a listening and caring ear. Now, her current students are welcomed to join her online and often opt to spend their snack and recess times in her Zoom room, listening to music together or chatting. These times are only some of the ways she gets to know her students and show each of them that her heart’s desire is to know each of them individually.
With the information Gita gleans from time spent with her students she personalizes instruction for each of her learners. As a result, each student gets what they need and thrives. Gita Varadarajan is a valuable asset to all at Riverside Elementary, and for all the reasons noted here and more, it’s why she’s now a “Teacher Who Makes Magic!”