Austin teacher chosen for national fellowship

Catalyst Circle Rock's Nicholas Tomasso to participate in Northrop Grunman Foundation Teachers Academy

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Matuesz Janik/AustinTalks

Catalyst Circle Rock School teacher Nicholas Tomasso is one of 26 middle school teachers nationwide chosen to participate in the Northrop Grumman Foundation Teachers Academy.

"We feel that he's someone who is going to be able to use the new knowledge as a recipient and share it with the community," Catalyst Circle Rock School Principal Elizabeth Jamison-Dunn said. "It won't just help his students directly, but it will also help all of our students because he'll be able to share what he learned with other teachers and staff."

Selected by the Northrop Grumman Foundation and the National Science Teaching Association earlier this year, Tomasso is the only teacher selected from Illinois. He will have the opportunity to participate in science, engineering and technology-related programs to further develop his classroom skills.

"I'm looking forward to when we work with experts and the activities we'll bring to the classroom to expose the kids to engineering careers and different skills," Tomasso said.

He received his first master's degree in secondary social studies education at Adelphi University in New York then moved to Chicago in 2012 to enroll in a special education master's program at National Louis University.

Tomasso decided to pursue the second master's degree after realizing during his student teaching that he needed more training.

Tomasso started as a special education teacher in 2013 at Catalyst Howland School before it closed, and in 2015 he began working at Circle Rock where he now teaches 7th and 8th grade.

"I realized I didn't know how to help my special education students," he said.

Tomasso has been able to introduce classroom projects from the Museum of Science and Industry involving virtual reality and started a student council for the students. He is also the middle school department chair and helps coordinate events like WE Day and community gardening.

"He is someone who I feel is a great representation of what you would want a core member to be because he came into education and has helped increase access for our students who don't always have access to things," Jamison-Dunn said.

More importantly, Tomasso has built a strong relationship with students and parents, she said. That is especially now with lessons and classes being taught entirely online because of the state's stay-at-home order.

"Some kids are much more conscientious and are getting their assignments done. Some need more of a push, but as time goes on and the longer we do this, the better it will be for the kids as well," Tomasso said.

Online classes at Catalyst Circle Rock started April 1, and since then teachers have been using software like Classkick and Google Classroom to interact with students and ClassDojo to help communicate with parents. The school has distributed more than 400 laptops to every student who needed a device at home; the schools has 512 students in all.

Tomasso was not able to attend the NSTA National Conference on Science Education, which was to be held in Boston from April 8 to 11, because of COVID-19. But he has been able to attend online seminars with experts. It's possible Tomasso and his fellow scholars will be able to attend another conference next year.

"I'm just looking forward to learning new ways to have my students experience success and to potentially look at careers," Tomasso said.

Last week, Chicago Public Schools celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week with its #ThankATeacher campaign to show gratitude to teachers for educating students and helping them reach their full potential.

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