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Distinguished Early Career Educators

Southbridge Public Schools Recognizes
Distinguished Early Career Educators
for Quality Instruction
Southbridge Public Schools launched the Distinguished Early Career Educator program in 2021. The Distinguished Early Career Educator is a designation afforded to Southbridge Public School teachers who are in their first three years of a teaching career in the district. Teachers eligible for this recognition were identified by their building principal for achieving at an exceptional level of growth within their profession.
Distinguished Early Career Educators have demonstrated outstanding instructional skills, a positive attitude, collaboration with peers, demonstration of a commitment to continuous personal growth, and they maintain high expectations for students, colleagues, and themselves.
"Please join me in congratulating our new Distinguished Early Career Educators. They are clear examples of the good work taking place in our schools," says Receiver/Superintendent Jeffrey A. Villar, Ph.D.
Ana Bowden, Paul Buccini, Jillian Lombardi, Mario Maturi, Meaghan Prince, Dennis Rivera, Kaitlin Thibodeau were honored with the distinction in the inaugural selection of Distinguished Early Career Educator. 
A photo of teacher Ana Bowden Ana Bowden started working at Southbridge Academy as a permanent substitute and then advanced to work as a middle school English Language Arts teacher. This is her second year with the district. She teaches grades six through eight. Ana received a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology at Boston University in 2015. She then returned to her hometown of Charlton and worked as a preschool teacher at the YWCA of Worcester for two years.
She also spent one year as an assistant teacher in a small Montessori-style elementary school before applying to Southbridge Public Schools and beginning her work at Southbridge Academy. She finds her work at Southbridge Academy both challenging and rewarding.
"At Southbridge Academy, we teach children and young adults who come to us in need of academic, social, and emotional support," she says.
"While this can feel like an insurmountable challenge at times, the overwhelming sense of success and satisfaction I and my colleagues feel when a struggling student forms a new relationship with a trusted adult takes an academic risk, or achieves a personal goal is unparalleled by anything I have felt working anywhere else,” she shares.
Bowden is honored to be recognized as a Distinguished Early Career Educator.
“I was surprised but honored to be recognized for my efforts after such a challenging year. I am glad that my classroom helps others see the potential for greatness in each of my students. I am also excited to be joining a cohort of Distinguished Early Career Educators who share my values and the belief that every student deserves the opportunity to be successful,” she says.
Bowden's favorite quote or advice that she has received makes an appearance on the back of the “Gotcha Cards,” that Southbridge Academy uses to recognize students for outstanding work:
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou
Photo of teacher Paul BucciniPaul Buccini has been working at Southbridge Public Schools since March 2019. He is a seventh-grade Social Studies Teacher at Southbridge Middle School. Buccini attended Westfield State University and worked as a paraprofessional and child-specific aide before coming to Southbridge
Buccini enjoys being a part of the positive change taking place in Southbridge Public Schools.
“I feel truly proud to be working in an environment where real change is happening on a daily basis. The students and staff at Southbridge Middle School make teaching an enjoyable experience. Each morning I wake up excited to come to work and make a difference in the lives of our students,” he reflects.
Buccini recognizes the support of his colleagues in reflecting on being selected as a Southbridge Public Schools Distinguished Early Career Educator.
“Being recognized as a Distinguished Early Career Educator is a great honor. Many of my colleagues are deserving of this award. I am proud that I was selected and hope that I can continue to improve on my practice to become a better educator,” he says.
"Paul's commitment to making history exciting for students is apparent every day in his classroom, whether his range of voices are making a primary source come to life or he is pushing his students to apply their knowledge to the civilizations they are analyzing," says Assistant Principal Sarah Houle.
"Paul is a teacher that students identify as a trusted adult within our school community and they consistently acknowledge him as someone who pushes them to become better versions of themselves," she continues.
Buccini's favorite quote identifies the process of learning as a growth process: "Progress is better than perfection."
Photo of teacher Jillian LombardiJillian Lombardi has worked for Southbridge Public Schools for three years. She teaches sixth grade science. Before arriving in Southbridge, Jillian graduated from West Boylston Middle High School and then went to the University of Rhode Island, where she received a degree in Animal Science Agriculture. Before she decided on a career in teaching she worked in agriculture and farming.
After graduating from the University of Rhode Island, she completed her Master’s Degree in Secondary Education during the uncertainty of the pandemic. Jillian has also spent years coaching girls basketball both at the middle school and junior varsity levels.
She runs a skills and drills basketball program and is working with other coaches to develop the basketball program.
“I love working for this school district, some days are more challenging than others but I enjoy being able to truly make a difference with the students and guide them towards success, both academically and socially,” she comments.
Lombardi is also pleased to be recognized as a Southbridge Public Schools Distinguished Early Career Educator.
“I am proud of the work I have done and this recognition means that others are too. I work very hard to provide the best education and support system to my students and for it to be recognized means a lot,” she says.
The best advice or famous quote that inspires Lombardi comes from a popular Maya Angelou quote: “People may forget what you said, or what you did but they will never forget how it made them feel.”
Photo of teacher Mario MaturiMario Maturi has been working for Southbridge Public Schools for a year. He teaches fifth grade at West Street Elementary School. Mario has graduated from Quinsigamond Community College and Anna Maria College. Before he arrived to work in Southbridge Public Schools, he was a student teacher in a fourth-grade classroom in Shrewsbury.
“I feel great about working in Southbridge Public Schools. I feel lucky to have been given the chance to make a difference in these students' lives, which is my mission every day. I also love everyone that I work with, and have had the chance to meet and learn from this year. I have personally seen the dedication my colleagues are putting forth for their students," Maturi remarks.
Maturi reflected on the honor of being recognized as a Southbridge Public Schools Distinguished Early Career Educator, especially following a challenging year teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To be recognized as a Distinguished Early Career Educator means everything, especially this year. It shows that working hard and always giving your all pays off in the end. This year was long, different, and full of unexpected surprises, but this did not deter me. There have been good days and great days, but there were days where I didn’t know what to do next. This didn’t keep me from trying every tool in my toolbox to make this school year the best I could for my students. While it is an honor to receive this recognition, my students are the real champions this year,” Maturi says.
Maturi says that his favorite quote comes from Bill Belichick: "Do your job."
"I have written this quote on my quote board a few times this year for my students because I am a strong believer that if you do what is expected of you then everything else will fall into place. I think of my classroom like a machine and when all the parts are doing their job learning just happens," he says.
Maturi also reflects on the quality of mentorship he has received as a new teacher:
"I would like to give a shout-out to everyone at West Street and specifically Cindy Payne. She has been such a wonderful mentor and has taught me so much. I would not have been able to get to where I am today without the help from her," he says.
Photo of teacher Meaghan PrinceMeaghan Prince is in her second year of teaching in Southbridge Public Schools. Meaghan teaches science at Southbridge Academy for middle school and high school students and also supports the grade 12 work study program at Southbridge Academy. Before arriving as a teacher at Southbridge Public Schools, Meaghan worked for Webster Public Schools as the Lead Teacher for their STAR program. Before that, she worked for nine years as a Lead Teacher for a private therapeutic residential and day school.
Meaghan reflects on her growth as an educator at Southbridge Academy and the role of her colleagues in creating a productive and positive work environment.
“I truly enjoy working for Southbridge Academy within Southbridge Public Schools. During my time here I have learned so much about allowing the students to teach me as I teach them. The teachers with whom I work truly care about their students and hold them accountable for their work set high expectations, and hold them to high standards. There is definitely a community of educators and students who work together to create an environment that fosters respect, responsibility, and safety, in order for students to be ready to learn and therefore successful.”
Meaghan was surprised at being selected as a Distinguished Early Career Educator and credits her colleagues with creating a positive work environment.
“I am honored and extremely surprised to be recognized as a Distinguished Early Career Educator. I work diligently to ensure that I set goals to better myself and my practice and I am humbled that the work I have done is being recognized. I am supported by the community at Southbridge Academy and believe it is because of my co-teacher and co-workers that I look forward to coming to work and doing my best to support our students,” she reflects.
Meaghan's favorite quote comes from Aristotle - "Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all."
Photo of teacher Dennis RiveraDennis Rivera is starting his third year as a teacher with Southbridge Public Schools. He teaches English at Southbridge High School. Before working for Southbridge Public Schools, Dennis worked for a company called LearnWell, where he taught and tutored students that were receiving mental health treatment at inpatient, residential, or day treatment facilities.
“Working for SPS is both challenging and rewarding. As a Hispanic teacher, I see myself in a lot of these students and see the role that education played in my own life, and want to share that with them,” Rivera says.
“I’ve grown a lot in my last two years and want to continue this trajectory of growth so that I can continue to refine my craft so that I can serve these students at a higher level," he adds.
When asked what it means to him to be selected as a Distinguished Early Career Educator for Southbridge Public Schools, Rivera reflects on his motivation and growth as an educator.
“It feels good. As an individual who doesn’t often operate for affirmation, it is nice to receive it. Oftentimes it can feel like your work goes unseen so it’s always nice to receive recognition. So, this experience has been both humbling and affirming.”
“It comes as a personal challenge. I see this as a step in my growth as a teaching professional as I pursue to continue to not only refine my teaching craft but to grow into a position where I can make an additional impact,” he adds.
Rivera's favorite quote is from J.R.R. Tolkien:
"All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost. The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
"It’s a lesson in perception. Things aren’t what they seem and strength comes from the most unassuming places," Rivera says.
Photo of teacher Kaitlin Thibodeau Kaitlin Thibodeau just finished her second year teaching first grade at Eastford Road Elementary School. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Eastern Connecticut State University and a master’s degree in Special Education from Central Connecticut State University. She previously worked at a private preschool on Eastern Connecticut State 
University’s campus for three years before coming to Southbridge Public Schools.
“I love working in Southbridge Public Schools because the students and staff who work in these buildings are special. The students need an extra amount of love and support and when they are pushed to be their best they can do amazing things. The staff is amazing!" Thibodeau says.
“Each teacher and staff member has a special talent and is so welcoming, caring, and open to new ideas and helping me with anything I may need. I think all the staff here have the students' best interests in mind and it takes a special kind of educator to love and teach our students," she adds.
“My favorite quote is, “Hakuna Matata.” Especially the 2020-2021 school year, we were faced with challenges like never before; but no worries - Hakuna Matata - because teachers are superheroes and we just needed to stay positive and keep pushing through. Our students have really benefited from a Hakuna Matata mindset, as well,” says Thibodeau.
“Southbridge is a special place with special students, special families, and special teachers, and I am honored, as it is, to work amongst such special and amazing people. This added honor is incredible and much appreciated. Thank you to everyone who has supported me in my early career here in Southbridge," she adds.
Special thank you to my Educational Assistant, Caroline Fontaine, for being the most amazing partner and teacher and for pushing me through the toughest of days. I couldn’t do what I do every single day without your support.”