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TCNJ cultivates a bumper crop of winning New Jersey educators

TCNJ cultivates a bumper crop of winning New Jersey educators

Earlier this month, the New Jersey Department of Education announced its 2022–2023 County Teachers of the Year and it was no surprise that six of the 21 county teachers are TCNJ alumni.

Each teacher was nominated as Teacher of the Year in their individual school before moving on to county-wide competition. Next, they’ll find out who will earn the title of Governor’s Educator of the Year, which will be announced in the fall.

County Teachers of the Year get to participate in speaking engagements and events, but perhaps the biggest perk is expanding their network of fellow educators.

“You start by getting to know 20 other education rockstars that have been recognized by their own counties, which is great because we support one another on this journey,” Ariel Babcock ’16, Hudson County Teacher of the Year, says.

Kristen Dunleavy ’04, MA ’06 says that the honor opens doors for her to discuss the importance of disability awareness and inclusion with a wider audience.

“My experiences as a life-long wheelchair user set me apart from the traditional teacher,” she says. “I’ve always known that my physical disability gives me a unique perspective on life, learning, and perseverance. I am determined to pay it forward to empower the next generation, especially those who live with physical or learning disabilities.” 

Read more of what the six outstanding educators have to say about their TCNJ experiences:  


Ariel Babcock ’16
Hudson County | Social studies teacher and Media Specialist at Weehawken High School

“I wouldn’t be a teacher if it wasn’t for TCNJ. I didn’t go to TCNJ thinking I would be a teacher, but volunteer experiences [at the college] exposed me to working with kids and completely changed what I wanted out of life. The professors in the School of Education prepared me for this career, and I will forever be grateful to them all. I also met my best friends at TCNJ!” 


Bre Baker, MEd ’10
Atlantic County | Biology teacher at Absegami High School

“I enjoyed working in an intensive program that led me to excel in my classroom using strategies developed through the TCNJ program — all of which led me to continue my education and earn a doctorate of education, which I completed this summer.”


Leigh Cline ’03, MEd ’08
Mercer County | Second grade teacher at Parkway Elementary School

“TCNJ was one of the best choices I’ve ever made. The friendships I made and the education I received helped to prepare me for life after graduation and my teaching career. I returned for my masters because of the programs offered and the close proximity to my job. I continue to stay connected to TCNJ through hosting students in their student teaching experience and other practicums and classes. I love being able to be involved and to give back.” 


Gina DiMaggio, MEd ’14
Bergen County | English teacher at Lyndhurst High School

“I earned a graduate degree through a unique partnership between TCNJ and The Regional Training Center. It was an amazing program with many practical teaching strategies that I still use often in my teaching! I am still in touch with my favorite professor — She inspired me to pursue my doctorate!”


Kristen Dunleavy ’04, MA ’06
Essex County | Special Education Teacher at Redwood Elementary School

“I worked closely in recent years with a fellow resource team teacher at my school who was also a TCNJ alum. I have noticed over the years that the educators who have earned degrees from TCNJ have an incredibly strong foundation in teaching methodology, specifically when it comes to differentiation and working with students with disabilities.” 


Christine Girtain ’94
Ocean County | Science Teacher & Director of Authentic Science Research at Toms River High School North & South

“I had wonderful professors at TCNJ like Dr. Lipton and Dr. Shevlin. TCNJ gave me very strong content knowledge to use in my teaching. My experience student teaching overseas taught me the importance of global partnerships; my students have been working with students in Israel extracting DNA from insects in both countries for about five years, and this year will be working with students in Belize on a Mars Farm Project.” 

The legacy continues with her daughter, Jaime Girtain, who starts her first year at TCNJ this year, majoring in mechanical engineering.   

Congrats to all on this outstanding honor. 

Learn more about the 2022–23 County Teachers of the Year program.

— Emily W. Dodd ’03