Everyday Hero Sandra Cappelli

Winner: AFT Early Childhood Educator division

Teacher, John F. Horgan Elementary School, West Warwick, R.I.
West Warwick Teachers' Alliance

It's an "energetic place that effortlessly ticks like the inner components of a fine timepiece—students engaged in complex learning, children working on differentiated assignments and a class full of youngsters using technology to create and collaborate." That's how one teacher describes Room 103 at Horgan School, where first-grade teacher Sandra Cappelli has built excellence and engagement into daily classroom life.

Sandra Cappelli
A 17-year veteran, Cappelli has honed her practice over the years and earned a reputation as a "go-to" colleague for support and encouragement—a role that she takes up eagerly and in ways that ask her to don many hats. As lead teacher for her grade level, she works with district-level coaches and routinely creates and shares model lessons for colleagues. As an active union member at the local and state level, she facilitates professional development for colleagues across West Warwick and across Rhode Island. And she has also made her imprint at the national level as part of the AFT's review team for the Next Generation Science Standards.

Cappelli has found ways to give back to her community as well as her colleagues. At "Feed 1,000," a local event that brings hot meals, warm jackets and holiday presents to deserving families each December, you'll find Cappelli (aka "the book lady") seated behind a table, trying to match free volumes to the interests of readers both young and old. Cappelli describes herself as the type of person who gets antsy if she sits still for too long, the type of educator who believes that rich professional development is the avenue that allows teachers to hone and refine their practice over many years.

"The way I teach science now is nothing like before," Cappelli says, and strong professional development—both as a provider and as a recipient—is a big reason why. "The growth I've gained has been huge," says the first-grade teacher, who traces years of development from an early practice that was heavy on direct instruction to one where "developing good questions and inquiry" opportunities for her first-graders is the first order of business.