A Wellington resident since 1996, Toshimi Abe-Janiga has been named the Palm Beach County School District’s Teacher of the Year for her work at the Riviera Beach Preparatory and Achievement Academy, a public alternative high school.
Known as “Mrs. Toshimi” to her students, she teaches English language arts, Holocaust studies and ACT/SAT prep.
Principal Mark Simmonds has worked with Abe-Janiga for 15 years. He explained that the school is an academic alternative for some 200 students who have fallen behind, all of whom take their English courses with Abe-Janiga. Simmonds is the one who nominated Abe-Janiga for the honor.
“Mrs. Toshimi goes above and beyond the call of her job. It is not a 9 to 5 for her,” Simmonds said. “She does not just teach — it is a passion with her. She makes a connection with each and every student.”
Originally from Japan and teaching in Palm Beach County since 2006, Abe-Janiga is a nationally recognized expert in Holocaust studies and a 2013 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum teacher fellow.
Her Holocaust Outreach Project about Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who rescued more than 2,000 Jewish refugees, connected with schools in the United States, Japan and Lithuania to share her work and train teachers to implement the lessons in their classrooms.
Abe-Janiga has been a Dwyer Award finalist multiple times and was also selected as teacher of the year at Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Holocaust and Human Rights.
In addition to Holocaust studies, Abe-Janiga has also earned several grants for curriculum “designed to incorporate a school-wide reading initiative while teaching African-American history and ways to dismantle systemic racism in American society,” Simmonds said.
Some of the numerous grants Abe-Janiga has received provide funding for her students to take the ACT and SAT after creating rigorous, intensive boot camps. “I also received funding for the AVID curriculum to conduct college tours for students,” Abe-Janiga said.
Abe-Janiga said her passion for teaching rewards her in that she gets to do what she loves. “[My] focus on teaching the standards has made a tremendous impact on students’ gains, and consequently increases the graduation rate and college readiness,” she said.
The announcement of the award was made during a live ceremony on Tuesday, March 30. Abe-Janiga’s name will now be submitted as the district’s entry for the Florida Teacher of the Year honor.
Her selection came from a field that also included finalists Ariana Murphy from Belle Glade Elementary School, Zuleika Acevedo Ayala from Hidden Oaks K-8 School and Alyssa Maddox from South Grade Elementary School.