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Hope Valley Elementary School preschool special education teacher Jeanine Healy Mankoff, seen here in her classroom, has been nominated for a national “LifeChanger of the Year” award. Tricia Abbott, a kindergarten teacher at Hope Valley Elementary (not pictured), and Emily Iredale (not pictured), a second grade teacher at Charlestown Elementary, were also nominated. Harold Hanka, The Westerly Sun

HOPE VALLEY — Three Chariho elementary school teachers have been nominated for the “LifeChanger of the Year” award. 

Jeanine Healy Mankoff, a preschool special education teacher at Hope Valley Elementary School; Tricia Abbott, who teaches kindergarten, also at Hope Valley school; and Emily Iredale, a second grade teacher at Charlestown Elementary School; have been nominated for the national award, which is sponsored by the Vermont-based National Life Group. The awards are given to teachers who have had positive impacts on their students’ lives.

Mankoff has taught at Hope Valley Elementary School for 14 years, when the preschool moved from to Hope Valley from Ashaway school. This year, there are 18 preschool children between the ages of three and five attending morning or afternoon sessions. 

Mankoff admits to being a bit embarrassed by all the attention she has received, but she has enjoyed hearing from the families whose children she taught.

“I’m not one to love attention, but it has been beautiful hearing from old students and families, the impact on their lives. I think that’s the best part of it,” she said.

Hope Valley Principal Giuseppe Gencarelli said he was pleased that Mankoff was receiving the recognition she deserves for teaching young children with varying needs and abilities.

“She goes under the radar all the time and people don’t realize what an amazing teacher — human being — she is,” he said. “Her families do, that have had her the last 16 years, but others don’t know how special a teacher she is. She inspires, she goes above and beyond. She gets to know every single family, not just her students.”

Gencarelli said it was exciting to have two Hope Valley teachers receive nominations.

“It is such an honor to have two nominees from such a small school. They are both certainly well-deserving of this award,” he said.

Abbott could not be reached for comment, but Gencarelli described her approach to teaching as inspirational. 

“Her drive is a fundamental commitment to her students’ success and collaboration efforts with the staff,” he said. "Tricia helps her students become motivated and engaged. Tricia motivates her students to do things that are sometimes inconceivable. Her classroom management is impeccable. She has her students motivated and ready to learn all day long.

"She has this knack of teaching kids ‘big adult words’ where students use these words throughout the day in conversations. It is absolutely remarkable to witness. She is able to move all learners of varying ability to accomplish so much academically, socially, and behaviorally.”

At Charlestown school, Principal Jennifer Poore said she was thrilled to learn that Iredale had received a nomination.

“Very deserving, very talented, very dedicated,” she said. “She has done an amazing job with distance learning. She’s a leader in our building with distance learning and technology use.”

Iredale, who has taught at Charlestown school for 14 years, said her focus during the summer is finding new ways to engage and motivate her students when school begins in the fall.

“I spend a lot of time in the summer trying to figure out what new things I can introduce into the classroom each year, and then it keeps building and I look for new and exciting ways to motivate the kids, and there’s a lot of buy-in,” she said. “They love the things that I find and implement in the classroom, and it gets to a point where other people see it and then they want to start doing those things as well.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought uncertainty and additional work for teachers, but Mankoff said her work in special education continues to bring her joy.

“Even the hardest day, and certainly with the pandemic this has obviously been a challenging year, and I just think that I get to experience and share joy with my students every single day,” she said. “You know, they’re sponges for everything and this age is just so filled with wonder and every day is something new.”

Iredale said teaching students both in the classroom and virtually had presented its own set of challenges, but both she and her students were happy to be back in the classroom.

“It’s good days and bad days,” she said. “It’s very, very difficult, but I love being back in the classroom with the kids.”

The LifeChanger winners will be announced in June. The top winners receive prize packages for themselves and their schools up to $10,000.

People wishing to register their support for Chariho’s nominees can do so at http://app.lifechangeroftheyear.com/nomination_list.cfm?SchoolState=RI&NominationYear=2020.

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