Trinidadian descendants Joshua Modeste of The Urban Assembly School for Global Commerce in Harlem and Persephone DaCosta of Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn were recently honored with the FLAG Award for Teaching Excellence, founded by Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman.

The award recognizes and celebrates extraordinary public school teachers who inspire learning through creativity, passion and commitment.

The award is funded by the FLAG Foundation for Excellence in Education and the Fuhrman Family Foundation. It is administered by co-chairs, Risa Daniels and Laura Twersky.

The FLAG award announced five grand prize winners – one from each New York City borough – who are “shining examples of the best in public school education.”

They are: Modeste, science professor at The Urban Assembly School for Global Commerce in Manhattan; DaCosta, a dance teacher at the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn; Anastasia, an English and social studies teacher at PS 120 in Queens; Laurie D’Amico, music teacher and marching band director at Tottenville High School in Staten Island; and Cheriece White, an art teacher at Metropolitan Soundview High School in the Bronx.

They each received a cash prize of $25,000 and their schools received a grant of $10,000.

“Public school teachers are among the most important pillars of our communities,” said Glenn Fuhrman. “They make sacrifices year round to nurture and mold our children into the next generation of productive members of society.

“This year’s winners embody the best of the teaching profession,” he said. “The teachers we have come to know through this process have all put a phenomenal effort into creating environments where their students learn and grow and it is an honor to recognize these people.”

Daniels said this year’s winning educators “have proven themselves to be exceptional individuals who have had a tangible impact on the lives of their students.”

“It is truly a pleasure to recognize them for their tremendous work,” said Twersky.

The FLAG Award for Excellence in Teaching, which has just completed its third year, received nearly 1,000 nominations from students, parents, principals and teachers.

FLAG Brooklyn 2022 Grand Prize winner, Persephone DaCosta. Courtesy of Persephone DaCosta

Thirty-five semi-finalists were selected from the applicants and had to complete a full application, participate in an interview process that included an interview with their manager and submit additional documents.

The cash prizes of $25,000 for the winners are for teachers’ personal use. Additional school prizes of $10,000 each are to be used for arts education initiatives with the contribution of the winning teachers. (Arts education is an area that is often underfunded in public schools.)

There were also 10 finalists who will receive $10,000 for their personal use, and their schools will receive $2,000 each to use for an arts-based initiative.

And 20 semi-finalists will receive $500 for their personal use, and their schools will receive $500 each.

An independent judging panel of education, community and philanthropy leaders, including Dr. Betty A. Rosa, Commissioner of Education and President of the State University of New York, selected the winners based on criteria that emphasize the student experience.

Other jurors include last year’s winner, Dana Monteiro; Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem; Pam Haas, New York Region Executive Director of Facing History & Ourselves; and Ashleigh Thompson, Dean of University Education at the City University of New York.

“I am so humbled and grateful to have been chosen for this honor!” said Modest. “I want to thank my school community and my students for continuing to encourage my creativity and use of social justice to get them excited about science.”

DaCosta said she would like to use the grant money to renovate the dance studio with basics, such as ballet bars and dance equipment, and bring in teacher artists.

She would also like to start a community dance troupe.

“I love that the school and I are getting funding because there’s so much more to do,” DaCosta said. “This work is demanding because our children have many needs.

“If we can’t pour anything into ourselves, we burn out and can’t give as much to others,” she added. “My goal is to be better, to go into the next school year invigorated and ready to give all I can to our students.

“Thank you for filling my cup and allowing me to continue to give more of myself to our students,” DaCosta continued.