FLAG Award Honors Trailblazing Teachers with $400K in Prizes NYC Educators Shine in Celebrating Innovation

Courtesy of FLAG Awards
The FLAG Award for Teaching Excellence in New York City celebrated 36 outstanding public school educators with $400,000 in prizes.


The FLAG Award for Teaching Excellence celebrated the achievements of 36 outstanding public school educators across New York City, awarding a total of $400,000 in prizes. Among the winners were six grand prize recipients, each recognized for their exceptional contributions to education in their respective boroughs, including a groundbreaking award for excellence in elementary school education.

Courtesy of FLAG Awards
Each grand prize winner received $25,000 in cash, with an additional $10,000 awarded to their schools, alongside cash prizes for finalists and semifinalists aimed at supporting ongoing educational initiatives.


Each grand prize winner was awarded $25,000 in cash, with an additional $10,000 granted to their respective schools. The award also recognized finalists and semifinalists with cash prizes ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, aimed at supporting their ongoing contributions to education.

The FLAG Award for Teaching Excellence received an overwhelming response this year, with nearly 1600 nominations honoring educators who demonstrate creativity, passion, and dedication in their teaching. 

“Public school teachers are unwaveringly dedicated to their students, and this year’s winners have truly exemplified this commitment,” said Glenn Fuhrman, Co-Founder of The FLAG Award for Teaching Excellence.

Courtesy of Aaron Lober
The awards, chosen through a rigorous selection process emphasizing student impact and global citizenship, highlighted innovative approaches in STEM and art education, underscoring the importance of arts initiatives in public schools.

A rigorous selection process led by an independent jury culminated in the recognition of teachers who not only excel in the classroom but also inspire their students to become engaged global citizens.

“We are excited to honor the outstanding educators who are devoted to enriching the lives of their students and ensuring that school experiences engage the next generation of global citizens,” added Amanda Fuhrman, Co-Founder.

The awards ceremony underscored the importance of arts education, an area often underfunded in public schools, by providing significant grants to support arts initiatives within winning schools. The initiative aims to foster a supportive environment that nurtures creativity and enriches the educational experience for all students.

An independent jury comprising education, community, and philanthropic leaders, including Dr. Betty A. Rosa, Commissioner of Education and President of the University of the State of New York, selected the winners based on criteria that placed emphasis on the student experience. 

“Year-after-year we have the privilege and joy of recognizing and honoring extraordinary teachers who inspire students to learn. This year’s group of grand prize, finalist, and semifinalist educators have earned the Flag Award for Teaching Excellence through their commitment to students and their school communities in and out of the classroom,” said Dr. Betty A. Rosa.

Courtesy of Aaron Lober
Aaron Lober, honored as one of Queens’ grand prize winners, exemplified innovation in STEM education at Halsey Middle School, integrating critical thinking and historical narratives into coding and engineering projects.

Aaron Lober, a STEM educator at 28Q157 Halsey Middle School 157 in Queens, was named one of the borough’s grand prize winners. Known for his pioneering work in establishing the STEM curriculum at his school, Lober’s innovative projects delve deep into the history of coding, promoting critical reflection on identity and historical narratives among his students.

His journey into teaching began uniquely, sparked by a passion for zoology during his high school years at Bard High School Early College Queens, where he earned an associate’s degree and developed an early interest in educational outreach.

Originally trained in special education, Lober’s career path took a significant turn when he embraced the challenge of becoming a middle school STEM teacher. Despite lacking a background in computer science, he immersed himself in learning JavaScript, Bootstrap Science, and Python, eventually pursuing a second master’s degree in computer science education. This commitment prepared him to spearhead the establishment of the STEM department at Halsey Middle School, a rare opportunity within the NYC Department of Education that allowed him to design and implement a curriculum tailored to his students’ needs and interests.

Lober’s innovative approach to STEM education goes beyond traditional boundaries. Collaborating closely with Exploring Equity in Computer Science (EECS), he developed a curriculum that not only teaches technical skills but also incorporates critical thinking about identity, stereotypes, and historical narratives in coding and engineering. His students engage in projects that explore the contributions of often-overlooked pioneers in technology, fostering a deeper understanding of societal issues and their historical context.

In addition to his curriculum innovations, Lober is known for his commitment to student-centered learning and experiential education. He transformed his classroom into a dynamic learning environment with initiatives like a hydroponic farm, where students learn about food scarcity and sustainable farming practices firsthand. Beyond the school day, Lober leads extracurricular activities such as the Halsey Robotics Team and an app-making program in collaboration with NASA, providing students with opportunities to apply their STEM knowledge in real-world contexts.

Recognizing the importance of equitable access to educational opportunities, Lober founded a free summer program on campus to ensure that all students, regardless of financial means, can engage in enriching STEM experiences during the summer months.

Upon receiving the FLAG Award, Lober expressed gratitude for the recognition and reflected on the collective effort of educators who dedicate themselves to their students’ success. He plans to use his $25,000 cash prize to further enhance educational initiatives at Halsey Middle School, beginning with the development of a school-wide hydroponic system aimed at promoting sustainability and community engagement. 

“I really feel like it takes a village to do the job that we do,” Lober said .”There’s so many teachers that I work with that I genuinely feel like not only deserve it, but don’t get recognition that the school system just gives. There’s some really hard working teachers out there.”

In his acceptance of the award, Lober emphasized the pivotal role of educators in shaping the future of their communities and called for greater support and recognition for all teachers who work tirelessly to inspire and empower their students.

“I really want the emphasis to be on the fact that, even though only a few of us are recognized, there are many others who also deserve this kind of recognition,” Lober said. “The teaching profession as a whole includes many dedicated individuals who are working tirelessly to improve the lives of children for generations to come.”

“The energy that Aaron brings to our school inspires us all to create the best environment with the best learning opportunities for all of our students when it comes to STEM and tech,” said Vincent Suraci, principal at 28Q157 Halsey Middle School 157. “His ability to connect with and teach all types of student populations with all types of reading abilities is remarkable and it helps ensure that we’re providing a high-quality STEM education for our students.”

Courtesy of Alicia Marcinkowski
Alicia Marcinkowski, recognized for her groundbreaking work integrating art history into English Language Learner education at PS 120, continues to inspire with her art-infused language lessons and commitment to cultural enrichment.

In another milestone, Alicia Marcinkowski, an ENL/Art teacher at PS 120, clinched the grand prize in the new Pre-K to 5th grade category. Recognized for her creative approach to teaching English Language Learners through art history, Marcinkowski’s integration of weekly art projects during the pandemic proved highly successful and has since been adopted as a formal part of the school’s curriculum.

Recognized with the prestigious Flag Award for her groundbreaking work in integrating art history into English Language Learner (ELL) education. This award, specifically designed for elementary school educators across New York City, celebrates Marcinkowski’s exceptional contributions to the educational landscape. 

At PS 120, where a significant number of students are English Language Learners (ELLs), Marcinkowski’s approach has been transformative. During the pandemic, she devised a unique method of teaching English by immersing her students in the world of art history. 

“During the pandemic, just to get my kids motivated to get on Zoom and Google meet, I started integrating visual arts into my program,” Marcinkowski said.

The success of this approach was evident not only in the students’ academic progress but also in their enthusiasm for learning. 

“It’s really important for me, with an ENL background, is to allow students to acclimate, especially new students to the country, so I allow them to use their first language when they want, until they’re they’re comfortable enough to try to start using English,”  Marcinkowski said. “So, I think the great thing is they’re they warm up very easily, and I have a rapport with them, and it’s a risk free environment.”

Recognizing the program’s impact, Marcinkowski’s principal decided to institutionalize it as a permanent ENL/Art curriculum. This shift allowed Marcinkowski to expand her role beyond traditional classroom settings, providing dedicated art-infused language lessons that continued to inspire and empower her students.

Beyond her classroom innovations, Marcinkowski is actively involved in professional development. She participates in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Professional Learning Community, where she collaborates with educators to enhance arts education. Her efforts have resulted in enriching field trips for PS 120 students, including a memorable visit to the museum’s Lunar New Year Festival, attended by over 100 families.

The Flag Award includes grants for personal and school use, enabling Marcinkowski to further enrich her students’ experiences. She plans to organize educational trips, such as visits to the Storm King Art Center, and community art events. 

“I would love to go there to see some of the artwork and just travel around Europe and explore some artwork that I can kind of just bring back to my students and create some new units for my program,” Marcinkowski said. 

Marcinkowski’s commitment to educational excellence and cultural enrichment has earned her admiration both within PS 120 and across the broader educational community. 

“I’m really just thrilled that I work with an amazing colleagues that are super supportive, and the community and the kids are the most amazing part of the job, and after 19 years, I’m really grateful that I still love what I do and I’m passionate about it, and I look forward to the next school year,” Marcinkowski said. 

The FLAG Award for Teaching Excellence, now in its fifth year, continues to honor educators who embody the highest ideals of public school teaching, fostering innovation, equity, and academic achievement across New York City’s diverse neighborhoods.

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