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AGAWAM — In mid-February, Superintendent of Schools Sheila Hoffman surprised four teachers in their classrooms to deliver some good news: they were winners of a 2024 Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award.

Rachel Conklin, Taylor DeGeorge, Rachel Patterson and Rosemarie Light were among 59 Agawam teachers nominated for the award for their exceptional teaching skills. They will formally be recognized at an award dinner and banquet April 30 at The Log Cabin in Holyoke.

They are among 91 teachers from Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties who will receive their award from the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation and the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation. During the past 21 years, more than 1,000 teachers have been honored.

All awardees will receive $250 for personal use, an engraved plaque and three-month memberships at six regional YMCAs or the Jewish Community Center. Additionally, tuition incentives and scholarships will be offered from seven major colleges and universities in the region. All 2024 winners also are invited to submit a project idea to win a Classroom Innovator Prize of $250. Up to 15 prizes will be awarded.

Rachel Conklin

Following her graduation from Westfield State University in 2019, Rachel Conklin started teaching kindergarten to grade 4 science at Phelps and Sapelli schools.

Rachel Conklin teaches K-4 science at Phelps and Sapelli schools.
Reminder Publishing photo by Mike Lydick

Conklin was excited to be hired and has “fallen in love” with her teaching position. In high school, she said there was “never even a second thought” about what she would study in college: “I knew I wanted to work with students from day one.” Volunteering at a summer camp and teaching for credit at a preschool attached to her high school solidified her desire to teach.

“By teaching monthly lessons at the preschool, I saw the impact teachers can have on students,” she said.

 Conklin said teaching is rewarding, but also draining at times.

“Receiving acknowledgment from time to time can help affirm to teachers that our hard work is noticed and that we do matter. This award confirms that my hard work is appreciated and that my creativity and knowledge in the classroom is valued,” said Conklin, who will use her prize money to help pay for her master’s degree.

Taylor DeGeorge

A fifth grade teacher at Doering School, Taylor DeGeorge previously was a day-to-day substitute teacher in the district and a permanent first-grade substitute teacher in Worcester.

Taylor DeGeorge is a first-year teacher at Doering School.
Reminder Publishing photo by Mike Lydick

An Agawam native, DeGeorge knew as a young child she wanted to teach.

“In kindergarten, my best friend and I would always play school together, taking turns teaching to one another,” she said. “I was also influenced by my many teachers at Granger School.”

One of the things DeGeorge likes best about teaching is getting to view life from a young child’s perspective.

“I love hearing my students’ stories and watching them make connections — academically and socially — as they grow as individuals. My biggest reward is when something finally clicks with a student,” she said.

DeGeorge said it’s important to recognize excellence in teaching because teaching is an “underappreciated” profession. “This award recognizes teachers for their hard work and dedication.”

She said the award is an opportunity to reflect on the hard work she’s invested in her students. “It also reminds me of the difference I make in their lives, even as a first-year teacher,” said DeGeorge, who is undecided about her plans for the prize money.

Rosemarie Light

A teacher for 30 years, Rosemarie Light started her career in Agawam 28 years ago, following two years as a speech and language assistant in Westfield.

Rosemaire Light teaches special education at Agawam Junior High School.
Reminder Publishing photo by Mike Lydick

A special education teacher at Agawam Junior High School, she was influenced by “some wonderful teachers” and her parents. While they stressed the importance of education and service, it was her father who had the most profound impact on Light’s career choice.

“My dad taught special education at a state residential school by day, then operated a reading clinic from our home in the evening,” she said. “I saw firsthand how my dad’s interventions could literally change the lives of students.”

Light said some of her proudest moments have come when former students take the time to contact her. “They let me know all the wonderful things they’re doing and tell me how I had a part in their success.”

She said while teaching has been “really rewarding,” it can be tough because new challenges seem to appear every school year. “Teachers are privileged to be trusted with the care and education of our communities’ children, so it’s important to recognize the importance of this vocation,” said Light, who will use the prize money for classroom supplies.

Rachel Patterson

An English teacher at Agawam High School, this is Rachel Patterson’s 16th year of teaching — 11 years at AHS and five years in Springfield. Her parents had the most influence on her decision to become a teacher.

Rachel Patterson teaches English at Agawam High School.
Reminder Publishing photo by Mike Lydick

“My mom taught Spanish for more than 30 years and my dad was a career counselor,” Patterson said. “I also have very fond memories of my favorite English teachers, including my fifth-grade teacher and two high school teachers. I carry their lessons with me today.”

The best parts of teaching for Patterson are connecting with students and finding creative ways to build lessons.

“Some of my proudest moments include watching students deliver their poems on stage during our annual Poetry Out Loud contest, but also quieter moments when I work with students to improve their writing skills,” she said.

She said teaching can be a rewarding profession, but it takes a lot of time and energy.

“Recognizing teachers goes a long way toward maintaining motivation. This award has boosted my commitment to my profession and my students,” said Patterson. She plans to use her prize money for dinner at the Federal restaurant and to buy some classroom books.

mlydick@thereminder.com | + posts