BRIDGEPORT — Joanna Vincenzo of Bridgeport, one of three teachers selected nationally for recognition and a $5,000 grant, will have new tools to help educate students with special needs next year.
The other two teachers chosen from 150 applicants are based in Arkansas and Minnesota.
Vincenzo is a cross-category intervention specialist at Bridgeport High School.
The grant comes from the More than a Teacher initiative through the non-profit organization Finding Coopers Voice.
This group partnered with Fun and Function, which provides therapeutic toys for children with special needs, to donate equipment for a “sensory corner” in Vincenzo’s classroom.
Beverly Prati, director of special education in the school district, named Vincenzo, noting the gains her students have made both in the classroom and in community and professional settings.
“We are very fortunate here at Bridgeport to have such a wonderful educational staff,” said Prati. “She has really shown that she is an exemplary teacher. She works with a group of kids who have a lot of diverse needs and challenges, and she has soared with that. … In her environment, she prepares children to become productive members of the community, prepares them for the labor market, taking into account their challenges, their exceptional needs.
In his nomination, Prati said Vincenzo takes the time to provide the necessary individual attention to his students.
“She pours her heart and soul into her students, and she’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet,” Prati said.
Vincenzo was also nominated by a mother of two, who praised Vincenzo for her children’s achievements, as well as her availability and communication skills.
“Ms. Vincenzo has a direct and profound influence that has contributed to much of their successful progression,” Amanda DeLuca, Chair of the Board of the More Than Initiative, quoted the mother’s statement.
DeLuca said the value of the equipment is around $5,000 and teachers can customize the site. She said Vincenzo’s entry stood out, as she was nominated by both a colleague and a parent, recognizing the difference she is making in children’s lives.
Vincenzo was surprised and delighted to hear the news.
“I don’t even know what to say, it’s awesome,” she said. “I’m so excited. … This is going to be so beneficial for the students and my class. The class dynamic is going to completely change. … We have a great year ahead.
She said it would come in handy after students return from community outings to practice their work skills and need time to “decompress”.
Vincenzo works with students aged 14 to 18.
“We prepare them for soft skills and hard skills, for employment and prepare them for life after school, that’s our main focus,” she said.
“I want to help my students find their voice,” she continued. “My focus over the past year has been to build my classroom and give my students the tools they need. … I want them to be as independent as possible.
Vincenzo said his class includes an “employment center” where students “come in” and “leave.”
“They have a schedule that they follow, they have work routines. They work for classroom money that they can spend in the classroom store,” she said.