Kelly Wilbert
Kelly Wilbert

zoom surprise
Kelly Wlibert-- second column on right, middle panel- was informed about her Sanford Teacher Award during a surprise Zoom ceremony, which featured the New Jersey winner along with other top inspirational teachers across the country.

East Dover Special Education Teacher Named Top Inspiring Educator in NJ

The following press release was received with permission to publish from Sanford Programs at the National University System June 22.

SAN DIEGO—June 18th—In recognition of inspirational teaching nationwide, Kelly Wilbert a fifth-grade teacher at East Dover Elementary School in Toms River, has been named a recipient of the National University System-Sanford Teacher Award for New Jersey on a surprise Zoom announcement.

During a year of unprecedented challenges for teachers nationwide, the Sanford Teacher Award honors the top teacher in each state and the District of Columbia with $10,000 for supporting student development and achievement in inspirational and harmonious ways. The award was established in the name of philanthropist T. Denny Sanford, who is committed to supporting inspiring teaching nationwide through PreK-12 programs focused on developing the social and emotional (SEL) skills of young people. Each teacher recipient is now eligible to be named the national winner of the Sanford Teacher Award, which comes with a total award of $50,000 and will be announced at a future date.

In Ms. Wilbert’s classroom, students have choices and work towards a common goal, says principal Matthew Gray. He marvels at how Ms. Wilbert finds various ways to help her multiple disabled students gain early literacy skills and achieve their behavioral goals, making their school fully inclusive.

Ms. Wilbert pushes her students to encourage each other to succeed. She challenged her fifth-grade class to start a "chain reaction of kindness." Her students created a paper chain with each link representing an act of kindness received or given. The class added to this chain throughout the year and spread this kindness initiative, visiting other classrooms to show them how to begin the chain project and to recruit other friends and classes to spread the "reaction" throughout the school and town. To encourage greater acceptance of special needs students with their peers, she helps all students recognize that everyone is capable of growth, acknowledge each other’s unique strengths, and to be compassionate that has led to significant progress in supporting social development. She is a pioneer in implementing the Sanford Harmony program, which promotes tolerance, positive peer relationships, empathy, and communications and self-regulation skills. Special needs students have peers who help model appropriate behavior. The children are able to practice and refine their social skills in a supportive and caring environment.

Kelly Wilbert and the other state awardees were selected before COVID-19 shut down schools, but have continued to use online settings to support the social and emotional wellbeing of their students during the current crisis.

The teachers were selected by a committee of educators and faculty based on an application process that included nominations and information provided by each teacher. Sanford Teacher Award winners were selected for demonstrating high levels of inspirational teaching practices by engaging students, building student confidence, motivating students to succeed, giving students a voice and creating an inclusive environment.

The qualities reflect the mission of education-focused programs based on the vision of Mr. Sanford that are being expanded nationally through the leadership of the private, nonprofit National University System. It's anchor institution, National University, is home to the Sanford College of Education, which is one of the nation's Top Ten Largest Schools of Education. The Sanford Programs include Sanford Harmony, a PreK-6 social emotional learning program that helps children develop communication and collaboration skills, and the PreK-12 Sanford Inspire program that offers teachers research-based resources and lessons to create inspiring classroom experiences.

“The National University System is so pleased to be honoring the vision of philanthropist T. Denny Sanford by recognizing inspiring teachers around the country through the Sanford Teacher Awards,” said Dr. Michael R. Cunningham, Chancellor of the San Diego-based National University System. “Teachers give so much of themselves to their students, schools and communities, and the Sanford Teacher Award is a way for us to celebrate the contributions of inspiring teachers who encourage children to reach their greatest potential.”

The Sanford Teacher Awards is part of the national expansion efforts of the National University System-based Sanford Programs, which in addition to Sanford Harmony and Sanford Inspire also includes a national network of fundraiser training programs anchored by the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy at National University. All are based on the vision of Mr. Sanford, who has committed to giving away most of his wealth during his lifetime. Mr. Sanford has given to health care and education-related initiatives, including the Sanford Programs at the National University System.

“As a child, I was fortunate to have a few teachers who truly inspired me to learn and succeed. Educators have many similar opportunities to touch children’s lives and have had a profound influence on their lives and learning,” said Mr. Sanford. “As an entrepreneur and philanthropist, I can think of no better return on investment than inspiring students to embrace learning and their path in life.”

The 2020 awardees will join last year’s cohorts of awardees, continue to work with the Sanford Harmony and Inspire Programs and receive training in communications and advocacy for teaching that is inspirational and grounded in social and emotional development.

The National University System is a network of accredited nonprofit education institutions serving higher education and K-12 students that includes National University; John F. Kennedy University; City University of Seattle; and Northcentral University. NU was established in 2001 to meet the emerging challenges and demands of education in the 21st Century. The anchor institution, National University, was founded in in 1971 and is among the largest private, nonprofit institutions of higher education in California with more than 175,000 alumni. National University’s Sanford College of Education is one of the Top Ten largest schools of education in the country.

About the Sanford Programs at the National University System

The National University System is leading the national expansion of the three Sanford Programs, which were established through the generous support of philanthropist T. Denny Sanford. The Sanford Institute of Philanthropy helps support the preparation of nonprofit frontline fundraiser leaders. The PreK-12 Sanford Inspire offers a toolkit of research-based teaching methodologies, and on-demand, self-guided modules that are accessible online to help teachers create inspiring classroom environments that encourage students to succeed. Sanford Harmony is a PreK-6 research-based social-emotional learning program that cultivates strong classroom relationships between all students. Sanford Harmony has been recognized by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) as a quality program.

Latest Stories