Two Being Honored as Rising Star Teachers of the Year
Two teachers have been named Rising Star Teachers of the Year by the Marian Greenblatt Education Fund. This award honors teachers with less than five years of experience whose creativity and enthusiasm encourages students to stretch themselves and achieve more.
This year’s recipients are Brendan Kelly, an instrumental music teacher at Albert Einstein High School, and Virginia Pantella, a STEM teacher at Gaithersburg Middle School.
Brendan Kelly has been an instrumental music teacher at Einstein since 2016. He teaches concert band, strong orchestra, jazz ensemble, jazz lab band and piano. He has increased opportunities for music students to gain experience with and exposure to professional performing artists and ensembles from the D.C. metro area. He hosted the U.S. Navy Concert Band for schoolwide assemblies in 2016 and 2018; and has held 10 guest artist performances, along with more than 30 professional musician clinics and workshops.
He has increased the size of two jazz ensemble classes from 30 to 41 students. Marching band enrollment has also grown, along with visibility. The band has performed at the Kensington Labor Day Parade, the Wheaton Arts Parade and the Silver Spring Thanksgiving Parade.
Kelly worked with the Performing Arts Coalition of Einstein (PACE) to raise the caliber of the music and art departments. They came up with a campaign to raise funds to repair broken instruments; in three weeks, they brought in more than $3,000. A few months later, PACE became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, raising $40,000 in its first year. Kelly is the heart and soul of this operation. He was integral in the structuring of the organization, and involved in setting fundraising goals and planning the budget.
He has made his band room a haven for his students, a safe space where many of his students spend lunch, down time or before and after school playing music, laughing and relaxing.
In a nomination letter, Principal James Fernandez wrote, “He has expanded the enrollment of all of his programs within his first year of teaching. Students notice his unmatched energy and want to be a part of his band, literally.”
Pantella heads up the STEM program and is the lead STEM teacher at Gaithersburg Middle. Her lessons are interactive, innovative and enthusiastic.
She is currently developing three courses that integrate skills in science, technology, engineering and math. Each course builds on skills needed in real-world careers and engages the students in hands-on learning. She has created a strong vision for the school’s STEM program. Each year, she takes 60 students to the Carderock Naval Research Center to test submersibles designed and built in the classroom through the Seaperch program. She helps to write grants to fund the materials.
For the past three years, she has sponsored the STEM Club and the KID Museum’s Invent the Future Challenge, which have helped explore and develop student ideas. She has worked with students as they’ve taken part in regional and national competitions. For the past three years, she has participated in a Journeys in Engineering Technology Science (JETS) night. She has sponsored a trip to the Galapagos Islands to give students the opportunity to learn in a living classroom.
Last year, she implemented lessons on 3-D printing, after receiving a 3-D printer on a yearlong loan from another school.
“Her endless curiosity, combined with her willingness to take risks, leads me to believe she will leave a memorable mark on the growth and achievements of our students,” wrote Principal Ann Dolan Rindner.