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Jericho High School Teachers Win Distinguished Teachers Award

Mary Moran and Serena McCalla of Jericho High School have been named “Distinguished Teachers of 2011” by the Harvard Club of Long Island. Of the fourteen teachers from across Long Island to receive this award — from among the 120 school districts on Long Island — Moran and McCalla will be honored at the Harvard Club’s annual University Relations Lunch on March 27.


“These Distinguished Teacher Awards honor extraordinary people,” explained Dr. Judith Esterquest, a board member of the Long Island club. “In our national conversation about where America should make investments, we on Long Island need to remind ourselves of the importance of recognizing and supporting our teachers like these- teachers who continue to influence our lives for decades after we sat in their classrooms.”

“Talented teachers like Mrs. Moran and Ms. McCalla expend uncounted hours and vast stores of energy to transform the lives of our Long Island teens,” Esterquest continued. “Day after day and year after year, they help shape our country’s future, inspiring students to dream big dreams, to work to accomplish those dreams, and to think rigorously about what they want their future to be. Their labor is a precious public good.”

Moran, who has been at Jericho High School for eight years, teaches all levels of debate, Introduction to Philosophy, Economics and American Sign Language (as a World Language). Prior to coming to Jericho, she taught at the Lexington School for the Deaf for seven years. Her B.A. is in economics from the University of Vermont and she holds an MA in Deaf Education from Lewis and Clark College.

Among her awards and honors, she treasures the Mock Trial Coach of the Year for Queens (1999), and the paper she presented at the American Society for 18th Century Studies (in 1996). When she is not working with students, reviewing their debate preparation and writings, she offers advice and writes recommendations for about twenty students per year.

Over the past decade, she and her husband William have focused on their children, Sean (10) and Ian (6). They also are active in their community, with Moran working with her son Sean, for example, to help gather food for people in need on Long Island.

Pragya Kakani, a former student who is a member of the Harvard College Class of 2014, nominated Moran, saying, “Teaching close to 100 debaters means reading close to 200 long papers every month,” before noting, “but even given her heavy workload, Mrs. Moran never fails to keep a smile on her face and remain engaging in class.” Students find her energy contagious, she says, “classes almost always end in heated discussions that leave almost everyone wishing the bell hadn’t rung.

“Almost every student has had at least one moment, if not several, of profound insight about a philosophical or political question.” When asked about Moran’s longterm influence, Kakani commented, “Her teaching has taught me skills that will be transferable no matter what I do-how to express my viewpoint effectively, how to think logically, and how to always see multiple sides to any story.”

McCalla has taught for 14 years, three of which at Jericho where she serves as the science research advisor. The subjects she has taught include zoology, biology, chemistry and independent science research. While in college, she conducted research at the Case Western University School of Medicine and immediately after graduation she briefly worked as an EEG/ECG technician. McCalla has presented her own doctoral-related research at the American Educational Research Association (AERA, in Chicago, 2007) and at the National Association of Research in Science Teaching (NARST, New Orleans, 2007).

She has also received numerous awards for her teaching, including the U.S. Presidential Scholars Teacher Recognition Award (2010); Intel Science Talent Search Teacher of Merit (2010, 2009); The United States Army, Navy, and Air Force Outstanding Teacher Award 2010- Long Island Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) Regional; The National Society of High School Scholars – Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction (2010); I-SWEEEP Teacher of Merit Participation Award (2010, 2008); Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision Regional Winner Coach Certificate of Achievement (2009); and Covanta Teacher Challenge – 4th place award (2008).

An active member of the Village SDA Church, McCalla has served as its education director for several years. Although she has recently taken up golf, she remains an avid traveler with goals to travel to forty different countries before she reaches the age of forty. When she is not working with students or reviewing their written research, she spends significant time writing recommendations — as many as 45 per year. 

Kakani also nominated McCalla for this award, saying McCalla, “has transformed my life and the lives of those around me.” She did this, her former student added, by “teaching me how to think critically, how to write intelligently, and most importantly, how to love learning.

“She not only focuses on helping top students become some of the most promising future scientists, she is also equally focused on fostering a passion for research in those who may not have considered the field before.” In thinking about the many wonderful teachers she has experienced, Kakani said, “Never have I seen a teacher who cares so much about students’ well-being academically and emotionally and is willing to make the time commitment to form truly unique relationships with her students to help them surpass all limits.

“At least in the Jericho community,” Kakani concluded, “she has become a second mother for many students who rely on her for support.”

At the March 27 ceremony, the HCLI will announce the Distinguished Teachers of 2011. who will also receive scholarships for a “Harvard experience” at the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, MA. While some past winners of this scholarship have chosen to attend a short program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, others have enjoyed a customized visit focused on subject matter they love, sampling some of the wealth of resources available to Harvard students- meeting with faculty, visiting labs, library archives and specialty museums, and enjoying visual and performance art.

“Ms. Serena McCalla and Ms. Mary Moran are two outstanding members of our faculty, ” said Jericho Superintendent of Schools Hank Grishman. “Our teaching staff regularly goes above and beyond normal expectations in support of our kids. Serena and Mary highlight the extraordinary commitment of our entire staff.”

The scholarships are funded by contributions from Harvard alumni living on Long Island. “We on Long Island benefit because teachers like these transform the lives of our children,” added Aileen Jacobson, president of the Harvard Club. “It is our privilege to honor them.”

Besides Moran and McCalla, Jericho physics teacher Karen Engelhardt received a letter from the Harvard Club of Long Island recognizing her superb teaching, and guidance counselor Candy Bardo was recognized for dedication and helpfulness. 

The fourteen Distinguished Teacher Award winners were nominated by current Harvard students and then selected by members of the Harvard Club. This year’s award winners teach English, math, science, languages, and history. A few teach at schools that often have four or more former students at Harvard; others teach at schools that have sent only a couple in twenty years. This year’s honorees teach in Bellmore-Merrick, Cold Spring Harbor, Commack, Deer Park, East Islip Middle School, Great Neck, Jericho, Roslyn, Saybrook, Seaford, St. Anthony’s in Huntington, and Ward Melville High School and Gelinas Junior High School in the Three Villages.

“Over the past twenty years, Harvard has accepted students from more than two-thirds of the approximately 120 school districts on Long Island,” said Carolyn Hughes, who chairs the HCLI Schools and Scholarships Committee, which ensures every Long Island applicant to Harvard gets a personal alumni interview.

“In the past five years, Harvard has accepted students from more than half of these districts,” Hughes continued, “offering admission without regard for financial need and offering financial aid to families with incomes up to $180,000. Because of this reach, our diverse undergraduates lead us to select award winners who truly reflect the diversity of Long Island and our extraordinary Long Island teachers.” The Harvard Club of Long Island’s website is

This year, Harvard College received 35,000 applications nationally (not quite 700 from Long Island) and will accept under 2,200- that is, about 6 percent. There are approximately 150 undergraduates from Long Island currently at Harvard College.