Rebecca Louise Vitelli, who teaches prekindergarten for the Colonial Early Education Program, was named Delaware’s teacher of the year at a ceremony in Dover last night.
Governor John Carney made the announcement at the annual banquet honoring the 20 district and charter teachers of the year. Vitelli will now represent Delaware as the state’s nominee for National Teacher of the Year.
Vitelli leads classes that integrate students with disabilities and their typically developing peers. She said her experience shows that all children are born with an innate drive and ability to learn that can be nurtured through both early engagement and secure, comfortable learning environments.
“Safety and security wire the brain to be able to learn. But when we feel connected, that’s when we’re willing to learn.”
Teachers must remain consciously present listeners and encouragers, Vitelli said. “Many of my students begin school without the ability to speak. However, this in no way means they have nothing to say. We teach children to express themselves in a multitude of ways. We show them that communication is powerful, and that others will listen and value what they have to share.”
Vitelli’s application for the award shared the story of twin sisters with autism who entered Colonial’s early education program at age three.
On their last day at Colwyck as 6-year-olds, their mother reflected on their growth in Colonial’s program and Vitelli’s class in a note to her daughters that Vitelli shared: “Three years ago, we were told you would never talk, and you would always be trapped inside 1-year-old brains. Three years later, you have proved them wrong.”
Retired special education coordinator Debra Nuss, said Vitelli had an “effortless ability” to work with the youngest children. “Most of all, it is Rebecca’s heartfelt joy, sincere compassion and genuine love of children that make her classroom such an enchanting place to learn.”
Vitelli earned degrees from the University of Delaware in early childhood education and a Master of Education in exceptional children and youth with a concentration in autism/severe disabilities.
She inherits the Teacher of the Year crown from Dana Bowe and will take on the responsibility of addressing community groups, business leaders, legislators, and educational organizations across the state.
Vitelli will also receive a $5,000 grant to use for the educational benefit of her students, as well two personal grants totaling an additional $5,000. The remaining 19 school district/charter candidates each will receive a personal grant of $2,000.
Additionally, Vitelli is eligible for a scholarship to the full doctorate program from University of Delaware and Wilmington University and graduate tuition from Delaware State University and Wesley College.
Below are the list of finalists for this year’s Delaware Teacher of the Year:
Appoquinimink: Stephen Landry, Appoquinimink High, mathematics
Brandywine:Lauren Conrad, Concord High, music (vocal)
Caesar Rodney: Sabra Collins, Caesar Rodney High, physical education
Cape Henlopen: Brennan Clarke, Shields Elementary, English as a second language
Capital: Erica N. Richard, East Dover Elementary, K-4 mathematics specialist
Charters: Kayla Sweet, Kuumba Academy, 6th grade mathematics
Christina: Lindsey Muldoon, Shue Medill Middle, 8th grade English language arts
Colonial: Rebecca Louise Vitelli, Colonial Early Education Program, Prekindergarten
Delmar: Donna Huston, Delmar High, English language arts
Indian River: Arthur Henry, Millsboro Middle, music (band)
Lake Forest: Christina Hughes-Gallo, Lake Forest High, social studies
Laurel: Donna Sava, Laurel Elementary, 1st grade
Milford: Jaime Hill, Morris Early Childhood Center, kindergarten
NCCVT: Anthony Webb, Delcastle High, mathematics
POLYTECH: Nick Post, POLYTECH High, electrical trades technology
Red Clay Consolidated: Richard F. Weaver III, AI duPont High, music (band)
Seaford: Laura Burke, Central Elementary, 3rd grade
Smyrna: Denise Balcerak, Sunnyside Elementary, kindergarten
Sussex Tech: Dontez Collins, Sussex Tech High, mathematics
Woodbridge: Stephanie Vodvarka, Phillis Wheatley Elementary, 4th grade