Resilient, resourceful, creative, Harding High School’s Sheena Graham on Tuesday was named Connecticut’s 2019 Teacher of the Year. News release from Governor Dan Malloy:
Governor Dannel P. Malloy and State Department of Education Commissioner Dianna R. Wentzell today announced that Mrs. Sheena Graham, a performing arts and choir teacher at Bridgeport’s Warren Harding High School, has been selected as Connecticut’s 2019 Teacher of the Year–the state’s highest recognition in honoring extraordinary teachers. State and local officials surprised Mrs. Graham at her school this morning to deliver the good news in person.
Currently in her 36th year of teaching, Mrs. Graham has spent her career educating a wide variety of students of all ages, ranging from pre-K through 12th grades. Her current assignments at the high school include teaching choir, black history chorale, peer leadership, theatre, piano, and performing arts.
“Connecticut has the best public school teachers of any state in the nation,” Governor Malloy said. “Over the last several years, we have witnessed a significant transformation in many districts and improved outcomes for students. This success is due in no small part to our teachers, who have dedicated their careers to the students they serve. Mrs. Graham exemplifies the qualities that we all look for in a teacher–she provides a supportive environment where her young students can learn from their mistakes while receiving the guidance and attention necessary to grow into our next generation of leaders. On behalf of the State of Connecticut, I want to thank Mrs. Graham and all public school teachers for their efforts to go above and beyond and have a positive impact on the lives of young people.”
Mrs. Graham was educated in the Ansonia public school system. She graduated with a bachelor of science degree in music education from Western Connecticut State University and earned master’s degrees from St. Joseph University and Southern Connecticut State University.
“For more than three decades, Mrs. Graham has served as a positive role model for her students while inspiring them to develop into well-rounded individuals,” Commissioner Wentzell said. “Her approach to teaching has encouraged countless young people to achieve success in school and beyond. We are fortunate to have a strong, dedicated teaching force made up of educators like Mrs. Graham who are committed to delivering on the promise of an excellent education for every student. I congratulate her on this extraordinary honor.”
Mrs. Graham was chosen for the recognition by the Connecticut Teacher of the Year Council, a group comprised of former recipients of the honor, as well as representatives from educational organizations, businesses, and the community. The council reviewed over 100 district-level Teachers of the Year through a rigorous selection process that included on-site visits, candidate applications, interviews, and observations of teaching.
“My greatest contribution to students today is providing them with opportunities, through music, to discover their passions, develop their voice, create community connections, and see that they have the ability to impact others positively,” Mrs. Graham told the council as they were reviewing candidates. “Yes I teach music, but the more important goal for my students is to leave my classroom with positive connections to life.”
The advice she conveys onto others is, “Do not let your image be designed by your inactivity.”
“The Connecticut Teacher of the Year Council is thrilled to recognize and celebrate Sheena Graham as the 2019 Connecticut Teacher of the Year,” Connecticut Teacher of the Year Council President Dr. David Bosso said. “With many years of experience and having taught thousands of students over the years, she is a pillar of her school community. Sheena sees the uniqueness and potential in all of her students, and she deeply understands the power that teachers have in making a positive difference in their lives. Sheena will be an inspirational representative of Connecticut’s teachers and a staunch advocate for our students. We look forward to learning from her and her fellow district teachers of the year during their year of honor.”
“Sheena is a truly generous educator who has high expectations for her students and is passionate about reaching each and every one of them,” Connecticut Education Association President Jeff Leake said. “Her commitment to her students and willingness to challenge herself represent all that is great in the teaching profession. Sheena instills compassion and empathy, making sure her students understand the need to take care of themselves, one another, and their community.”
Mrs. Graham considers her Grandmommy Candace, her Aunt Dorothy, and her parents Fred and Annie to be her greatest educational influencers and inspiration for becoming a teacher. Her family’s love of reading and the importance they placed on education was instilled in her at a young age. She said that she tries to impart that same emphasis on education and a lifelong love of learning in her students.
While Mrs. Graham’s grandmother could read, she could not attend school but believed that literacy and education made up the foundation for her children to achieve and pursue their dreams. Mrs. Graham’s aunt was also a teacher who nurtured her desire to be an educator and believed that education did not take place in the classroom alone but was demonstrated in how one walked, talked, and lived. Her parents taught her that applying the knowledge she gained through education would always be the most valuable tool she possessed and encouraged reading from early childhood by reading her bedtime stories and then placing the books in her crib.
In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Mrs. Graham also leads extracurricular activities including running a poetry club, coaching cheerleading, softball, drill team, and dance troupe as well as teaching free piano and drama classes at the Hall Neighborhood House Academy of Music and Fine Arts. Under her leadership, the Harding cheerleaders brought home the Fairfield County “Spirit Stick” two years in a row, the peer leaders produced a compact disc to raise money for the homeless, and the Harding and Central School choirs attained a number of accomplishments, including a total of 9 “overall” trophies, 31 first place trophies, 3 second place team trophies, 24 individual trophies, and after missing out on being grand champions by four-hundredths of a point one year, they brought that title home the following year.
“Mrs. Sheena Graham exemplifies an abundance of passion for her profession and her extraordinary love of music transcends to each student she has the pleasure of interacting with each school day,” Bridgeport Superintendent Dr. Aresta Johnson said. “She is admired, respected, and revered within her profession and the Bridgeport community. Teacher leader, conductress, songstress, and student advocate are just a few of the wonderful attributes embodied by Mrs. Graham. Whether it is within the classroom or throughout the community, Mrs. Graham connects to our children through the universal language of music, her passion for her craft is infectious, and she has an inspirational expectation of illuminating talent in our children. The Bridgeport Public Schools system is extremely proud to have a veteran educator of 36 years who is a talented musician selected as the 2019 Teacher of the Year.”
“Ms. Sheena Graham has consistently demonstrated an exemplary level of performance for an extended period of time,” Harding High School Principal Dane Brown said. “Perhaps the most outstanding trait is her ability to engage any learner whether that she comes in contact with in and outside the classroom. Having Ms. Graham as a member of our community makes us better by the way that she impacts the student population. However, it does not stop there. Ms. Graham’s intrinsic drive and desire to be great is infectious. Her colleagues feed off her positive energy and her collegiality, which enriches our community. It is an honor to work with such a dedicated professional. Congratulations, Ms. Graham! The Harding community couldn’t be prouder of you.”
Mrs. Graham has received several awards over her career, including the Beard Excellence in Teaching Award, the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Teacher of the Year Award, the NAACP Teacher of the Year Award, the Bridgeport Teacher of the Year Award two times, the Outstanding Teacher Recognition Award, and a Choral Director of Distinction Award. She was featured in the book Notable Valley African-Americans and has been recognized by several mayoral administrations, district superintendents, arts supervisors, and numerous other organizations for her work as an educator in the performing arts.
Mrs. Graham will now become Connecticut’s representative for 2019 National Teacher of the Year. She succeeds 2018 Connecticut Teacher of the Year Erin Berthold, a first grade teacher at Cook Hill Elementary School in Wallingford.
About the Connecticut Teacher of the Year Program
The Connecticut Teacher of the Year program began in 1952. It is intended to recognize teacher excellence and honors those who have inspired a love for learning in their students and who have distinguished themselves in the profession. The program is administered by the State Department of Education’s Talent Office along with a number of corporate, organizational, and individual sponsors. The selection process begins with the designation of a Teacher of the Year in each district and continues to the national level, where the Connecticut Teacher of the Year becomes eligible for national honors.
The Connecticut Teacher of the Year and Teacher of the Year finalists serve as teacher-ambassadors for public education. They are appointed to various education advisory committees and become consultants to the Commissioner of Education. They present workshops, speak at education conferences and meetings, address student, civic, college and university, and governmental groups and operate special programs in accordance with their interests and expertise. The Connecticut Teacher of the Year also represents the state at the national level by participating in national educational forums, National State Teacher of the Year Program planning and networking sessions, and U.S. Department of Education meetings.