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Robbins Wins State ‘Teacher of the Year’ Award

Massapequa High School Social Studies teacher Dana Robbins was named the New York State Teacher of the Year by the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History in New York City. The honor recognizes her exceptional talents as an American history teacher based on her commitment to teaching, her use of creativity and imagination in the classroom, and her use of primary sources to engage students in American history.

As the state winner, Robbins received a personal award of $1,000 and an archive of books and historical resources for the high school. The honor also places her in the running for National History Teacher of the Year and the opportunity to win an additional $10,000 prize and a trip to the national awards ceremony with two of her students. The winner— to be determined by college professors, former winners and historians — will be announced in the fall.    

Humbled by the win, Robbins said, “It is particularly flattering to receive this award from such a prestigious organization as the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History, whose purpose is to improve history education.  I was equally flattered to learn that I was nominated by my colleague, Nicole Albanese. It means so much for a fellow teacher, who knows the work I do inside and outside of the classroom, to recognize my efforts to educate my students.”

A Massapequa alumna, Robbins has taught U. S. History in the district for 12 years, including four years of summer school. She currently teaches 11th grade Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History, Regents U.S. History & Government, Civil Law and Criminal Law at the high school. What makes her classroom different?

“I play music in the classroom and offer projects which allow students to hone in on their creative side, such as creating magazines, newspapers or comic books from the time period they are studying; re-enacting TV shows or videos, and conducting debates,” she said.

Beyond the classroom, Robbins has taken on numerous roles. She co-advises the National History Day program at the middle school with Laura Siegel, and volunteers her time to students interested in National History Day at the high school. Through her effective coaching, students have consistently placed well at local, state and national history day competitions. She has judged the program at the regional level and has led professional development workshops on National History Day at Long Island Council for the Social Studies Conference.  

On school budget vote day, she heads up the student vote, during which upperclassmen introduce the democratic process to elementary students while parents vote on the school budget.  

She also led other development workshops on topics including document-based question (DBQ) writing for elementary school students,  wrote curriculum for various history courses, and worked on developing a new high school attendance policy and a prospective International Baccalaureate program.

One of her proudest moments as a teacher, she said, was when she found a copy of a former student’s college essay in her mailbox.  

“This young man was a special education student in my seventh grade U.S. history course the first year I taught in Massapequa,” she said.  “He recalled in his essay how I made a great impression on him, encouraging him to push himself and excel in my course, which he did …. Just recently, the young man wrote me to tell me he secured a full-time position teaching social studies in Connecticut and credits me with making it happen.  Of this, I couldn’t be prouder.”

Moments like this are especially poignant because Robbins didn’t set out to be a teacher when she first entered college. She intended on becoming a lawyer and went to law school for a year, then worked in the financial sector before pursuing a career in education.

Now, she says, “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”