By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
VENTNOR – When asked how she felt about being named the Ventnor Middle School’s Teacher of the Year, Spanish teacher Paige Elmer said she was “humbled,” but that “every teacher should be named Teacher of the Year in 2020.”
“It’s been an incredible journey for all of us,” she said.
Elmer teaches Spanish to all the district’s students, from kindergarten to eighth grade, and a high-school honors Spanish I class for about 10 select students who show promise in learning languages.
Her philosophy of teaching includes reaching every student and providing a quality education for every child.
“Every individual has their own way of learning and I want it to be enjoyable for them. I want them to want to learn another language,” she said.
She recalled taking eight grade students to France, England and Mexico during spring breaks.
“That was fun,” she said.
Elmer, the daughter of a U.S. Navy officer, grew up in Japan and fell in love with languages. She was inspired to become a teacher when she was a student at Oakcrest High School in Mays Landing. She studied French in college, and is fluent in several languages.
She started her teaching career in 1994 in Middle Township where she taught Language Arts Literacy, reading and French, and was hired in Ventnor in 2001 after she saw an ad for a Spanish teacher in the paper.
“I immediately fell in love with the district,” she said. “It’s like a family here. I’m teaching people who have a strong bond together.”
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced the school into a hybrid model where students are in the classroom two days a week and learning remotely the rest of the week, “students are learning, 100%,” she said.
“I am having success with the children learning hybrid. I’ve seen their commitment, not only from the students, but from their parents as well,” she said.
Elmer said the school has a great administration working to protect as well as educate.
“I’m familiar with other school districts and our district is on the ball. Everyone is spending hours making things work for the students.”
Elmer is currently single and the mother of a 28-year-old daughter who is a nurse at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C. She lives in Linwood.
First grade teacher Gina Perkins is the Ventnor Elementary School Teacher of the Year.
“It feels wonderful to be recognized,” she said.
She, like Elmer, was nominated by her peers, who called her an “outstanding professional who builds lifelong relationships with her students and their families, and Some of the most challenging students have found success in her room because she is inclusive, no-nonsense, helpful, and gracious.”
Teaching children to read by sharing computer screens can be daunting, but “we need to be flexible and patient,” she said.
Perkins said the teachers “have a better handle on things than we did in the spring, but we want the kids in the classroom. And the children really want to see their teachers,” she said.
Nevertheless, it’s a challenge not knowing what each day will bring.
Although all students are equipped with the technology needed for remote learning, computer glitches, family issues and meltdowns occur.
“But we need to take each day as it comes,” she said.
Perkins has been teaching for 24 years, 22 of them in Ventnor. She moved to the area from Pennsylvania in 1994, when many people were moving to the area following the opening of the Borgata casino.
Both her parents were educators, “so it runs in the family,” she said.
“When they were living in Margate, they kept an eye out for me for teaching jobs in the area,” Perkins said. “They told me about the opening in Ventnor and I landed the job.”
She taught kindergarten, third grade and writing for grades K-4, “but first grade has always been my specialty,” she said.
“I enjoy the children. It’s a new adventure every day with 6- to 7-year-olds. They keep teaching interesting,” she said.
“We become teachers because we envision a profession where we can build relationships. While we are building a career, it is really more about the students and seeing them grow. It’s building bonds with families that sets teaching apart from other professions,” Perkins said.
She is so committed to the profession that she has served as the president of the Ventnor City Education Association from 2003-2005, and from 2014 to the present.
Perkins said Ventnor’s diverse population enhances the classroom.
“To have different voices, viewpoints and cultures – that’s what makes America America,” she said. “Each culture adds riches to their lives, and students become more respectful and appreciative of their differences.”
Perkins, who resides in Port Republic, said she feels fortunate to have made Ventnor her home away from home.
“I feel fortunate to have a wonderful career at the VECC. I love working with the teachers and tremendously enjoy the families,” she said.
Perkins is married and has a daughter and two step-sons.
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