Connecticut Teacher of the Year 2021 - Rochelle BrownPoquonock Elementary School, Windsor School District
There’s a Jamaican saying that states, “What is yours will be yours”. Growing up as the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, Rochelle Brown heard this saying often. She has applied this saying to her own life, especially in regards to her career choice as an elementary educator.
At the tender age of six, Rochelle was “teaching” kids on her back porch. She knew how to read quite well, and thought that everyone should share in the “magic” of reading and books. To her, the ability to read was a priceless gift that she just refused to keep to herself. As the years went on, Rochelle’s parents would encourage her to take advantage of every opportunity presented to her while attending the Annie Fisher School in Hartford’s North End. She would attend weekend academies and summer programs at the University of Hartford and Kingswood Oxford, all the while dreaming of what her future career would be.
As one of a few students of color at Granby Public Schools (through the Project Concern Program) and Westminster School in Simsbury, Rochelle’s thoughts about education deepened. She would wonder why she had to leave Hartford for a better educational experience, never taking for granted the opportunities that were not afforded to many of her peers. Rochelle spent countless hours as a high school student at Westminster tutoring elementary school students at the Barnard Brown Elementary School and tutoring and teaching Sunday School at her church, Hartford’s Liberty Christian Center. Always hearing that she” worked well with children”, she would carry her desire to help others with her to the University of Rochester.
Although she majored in Public Health, an unexpected opportunity presented itself in her Senior year. The Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development was offering a graduate program in Teaching and Curriculum to students of color. Although she had no formal experience in education or teaching, enrolling in the graduate program would ignite a passion within Rochelle. As that old Jamaican saying once foretold, her true purpose would finally come to fruition. As a graduate student, Rochelle’s love of children’s books was reawakened. She began to notice however, that many of the books they were studying lacked diversity and did not represent all children, just as they had in her formative years. She began to recall her own days of being in school and not feeling represented in the curriculum or learning materials. After graduating, she knew it had to be a priority to ensure that all students felt valued and included.
Being an educator in Windsor Public Schools since 1999, Rochelle has always realized the importance and significance of representation. The very act of allowing students to feel seen, heard, loved, and acknowledged is necessary to their success and progress. In her 15 years at Oliver Ellsworth School and her 6 years at Poquonock School, Rochelle has been involved in several projects to help the students of Windsor. She has taught Kindergarten, Grades 2 and 3, as well as a United States Citizenship course through the Windsor Continuing Education program. Many summers were spent teaching Summer School and tutoring students in need. When a colleague decided to start an afterschool program for boys of color to address the achievement gap, Rochelle was ready to join, traveling to several states on the weekends to ensure that the boys would have cultural and educational experiences just like their peers.
Presently, Rochelle serves as the co-chair of Poquonock School’s Equity Committee, as well as the district’s Equity Committee. With her co-chair, she has offered professional development opportunities for her colleagues and created an Instagram page, kidlitlove8, to bring awareness to multicultural children’s books and the importance of representation for all children. She continues to serve as a representative for the Windsor Education Association, always ensuring that her colleagues are knowledgeable of their rights and responsibilities as professional educators. Rochelle is proud to say that after more than 20 years as an educator, she still has that passion for educating children that was sparked so many years ago, and she plans to continue this very important work for years to come.
Duties of the Connecticut Teacher of the Year
The Connecticut Teacher of the Year and Teacher of the Year finalists serve as teacher-ambassadors for public education. They are appointed to various education advisory committees and become consultants to the Commissioner of Education. They present workshops; speak at education conferences and meetings; address student, civic, college and university, and governmental groups; and operate special programs in accordance with their interests and expertise. The Connecticut Teacher of the Year also represents the state at the national level - participating in national educational forums, National State Teacher of the Year Program planning and networking sessions, and U.S. Department of Education meetings.