For two consecutive years, teachers at Elbridge Gale Elementary School have been named the Social Studies Teacher of the Year for elementary schools in Palm Beach County.
Last year, Kirsten Connor Raban received the recognition; this year, the award went to Ben Scozzaro.
Being named the county’s teacher of the year makes teachers eligible for the state teacher of the year award, presented in October.
Connor Raban, who teaches fifth grade, represented Palm Beach County in 2015 at the state banquet in Orlando. Fourth-grade teacher Scozzaro, who retired at the conclusion of the school year, will be attending this year’s banquet.
“This award came as a going-away present for me,” he said.
Scozzaro started teaching in 1986. His first students are now in their early 40s.
“Anyone born after 1975 could have been one of my students,” he said. “That’s 30 years for me. It’s kind of nice to be recognized and go out at the end with a nice award.”
Scozzaro taught first in Broward County, but the majority of his 30 years has been in Palm Beach County, teaching fourth and fifth grade.
Connor Raban started teaching in middle school, but has been at Elbridge Gale since 2005.
Principal Gail Pasterczyk wasn’t surprised that two of her teachers have been chosen.
“It speaks to the outstanding teachers that I hire at Elbridge Gale. I really set the standards high, and I stick to that when I’m looking to add teachers to our staff,” Pasterczyk said. “I always say I have an award-winning staff. As they garner more and more recognition and awards, it is really true that, year after year, our teachers are recognized for their outstanding contributions to education in Palm Beach County.”
Scozzaro said that he has been humbled by the experience, which started with being selected as the school’s representative.
“When the district selected me, I was pretty shocked and surprised,” he said, adding that it is nice to be recognized. “Teaching is kind of a solitary job; it’s you, in front of the kids. You either have it or you don’t.
He certainly enjoyed the job.
“It’s the greatest job to have,” Scozzaro said. “It’s nice to be recognized by the people you work with, in your community, the district. There are 12,000 teachers in Palm Beach County. They all do a great job every day.”
In his fourth-grade classes, the focus has been on Florida studies and the history of Palm Beach County.
Connor Raban almost didn’t even fill out her paperwork to apply, she was so busy.
“I think it’s an honor because you’re recognized for all your hard work,” she said. “Someone realizes that what you’re doing is really making a difference, and that social studies is still important, because a lot of people don’t think it is.”
The focus in her fifth-grade classes is American history. “It may not be the dates that are the most important thing, but it’s the story of this nation, and that’s what I really teach,” she explained.
Pasterczyk is proud of the school’s social studies curriculum.
“Our teachers at Elbridge Gale really do enjoy teaching social studies, and it’s something that we infuse in our nonfiction reading,” Pasterczyk said. “Sometimes the reading teacher does a lot of the social studies, as is the case with Kirsten Connor Raban. She does social studies during her language arts block.”
For example, Pasterczyk said, Connor Raban’s class read the book Number the Stars to learn about the Holocaust.
Connor Raban has attended out-of-state conferences for social studies and has gone above and beyond to get the experience to help her make social studies exciting in her classroom, Pasterczyk said.
In the case of Scozzaro, he taught science and social studies.
“That was just one of his favorite subjects that he really enjoyed,” Pasterczyk said. “He developed a lot of fun projects for students to do in order to make social studies fun and exciting for the students.”
Every year, Scozzaro would organize a cultural feast, where students would research their culture, then bring in a dish representing the country they each researched, and the students would learn about difficult cultures and countries as they ate a meal together. “It’s great to be recognized for the impact that he has made during his entire 30-year career,” Pasterczyk said.
As Scozzaro said goodbye to his students — they all knew he was moving from Wellington to New Smyrna Beach — they wrote cards, made drawings and held surprise parties for him before school ended.
ABOVE: Elbridge Gale Elementary School’s Kirsten Connor Raban and Ben Scozzaro have been honored as Social Studies Teacher of the Year for elementary schools in Palm Beach County.