- by Mount Saint Mary College

Two Mount Saint Mary College alumnae recently received the Hudson Valley Magazine Teacher Appreciation Award: Kira Tutko '13 MSEd '15 and Meredith Schwarze MSEd '15.

Tutko of Washingtonville, N.Y. and Schwarze of Pleasant Valley, N.Y. were reader-nominated to the magazine's award this year for excellence in shaping education during an unprecedented time.

Headshot of Kira Tutko

Tutko was nominated by a friend who recognized that many teachers worked overtime to make their classes virtual during the pandemic, but Tutko knew her special education students needed more than just converting the classroom to a video setting.

To make her students feel more comfortable, Tutko created Bitmojis (personalized, expressive cartoon avatars) for the school's faculty and staff to help welcome the entire school into the new, fully virtual environment. She also made custom sensory educational tools for her students and helped with a drive-by parade.

Tutko attributes much of her success to Ludmilla Smirnova, professor of Education at the Mount, whom she called the "tech guru" who gave her the many resources she brings into her classroom today.

A K-4 Literacy teacher in the Kingston, N.Y. school district, Tutko noted that the 2020 school year was extremely challenging for all educators.

"I feel so honored to have won the award," she said. "Every teacher deserves a 2020 award."

Tutko stays inspired to be a great teacher by keeping up-to-date on new and innovative teaching methods: "I am always looking for new ideas to bring into the classroom," she said.

In her seventh year of teaching Kindergarten in the Arlington Central School District, Schwarze expressed how different the classroom looks during the pandemic and how hard all teachers are working to come up with new approaches to engage and care for their students.

She added, "I was honored to be recognized for my passion for teaching and fortunate to be inspired by a community of strong educators."

Meredith Schwarze photographed at her desk.Growing up in Dutchess County and attending Arlington schools herself, Schwarze has been influencedby many educators along the way. She attributes some of her inspiration to her mentors at the Mount, including David Gallagher, Rebecca Norman, Janine Bixler, Frances Spielhagen, Susan Decker, and Nancy Benfer, all from the Division of Education at the Mount. Schwarze said she holds pieces of their teaching close to her heart.

She explained, "Selecting Mount Saint Mary College enabled me to gain the knowledge and foundation needed to put theory into practice."

Over the last half century, Mount Saint Mary College has been a dedicated and respected provider of teacher education in the Hudson Valley. Two of the recent New York State Teachers of the year have been from the Mount: Debra Calvino '81 and Dana McDonough '91 MSEd '00, respectively the 2010 and 2016 NYS Teacher of the Year.


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