For his outstanding work at Blackstone Valley Prep,  Andrew (Andy) D’Avanzo was the most recent recipient of our Teacher of the Year award. As we look towards the start of a new school year, we took a moment to ask him some questions about his work. 

Mr. D’Avanzo is a 3rd grade teacher at Blackstone Valley Prep’s (BVP) Elementary School 2. He graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish and International Relations from Brown University in 2011 and is a former member of their soccer team. He still enjoys playing in his free time. In the fall of 2009, Mr. D’Avanzo studied abroad in Havana, Cuba, where he taught English to adults in his community. 


What inspired you to teach?

I actually never planned on getting into teaching. I come from a
family of educators and most of my childhood was spent on the campus of a
private boarding school in Massachusetts. I went to college thinking about law
school and I thought about going into finance for a while. Even though I
wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, I was convinced that I wanted to be in
a lucrative line of work. During the summer before my junior year, I enrolled in
study abroad program in Havana, Cuba through Brown University. It was a very eye opening experience. I met so many amazing people who were so content with
so little. It really changed the way that I thought about my future and made me
realize that my personal experience had been so limited and my world view was
so narrow and self-serving. In the summer after my junior year, I stumbled
across BVP. They were in their first year and looking for interns and teaching
assistants for their summer academy. Desperate for a summer job and figuring
it would be something like a summer camp, I inquired and set up a time to visit
the school to meet with Jeremy, the Executive Director, and the staff. I quickly realized that this was
not an ordinary school. I was so impressed and intrigued by the
things kindergartners were capable of. After 3 weeks of summer academy I returned in the fall as an intern and became more interested in public
education. With guidance, and a gentle nudge from Jeremy, I applied to Teach for
America, got placed in Rhode Island and haven’t looked back since. The same
realization that first struck me has always guided my development and inspired
me to continue working in education – when kids are given a fair chance and the
tools to succeed, they are capable of amazing things.

What is your “why” for being
at BVP? 

My “why” is very simple. It’s all about the
relationships I’ve made with kids and their families. I get so much joy from
the opportunity to have an impact on the lives of my students, and getting to
be part of their stories is humbling. I’ve been able to develop real
with so many amazing young people and wonderful families. Teaching
at BVP presents a truly unique opportunity to engage with and learn from so
many interesting people from so many different backgrounds. I learn something new
every day and I have a lot of fun doing it. 

What is the experience like in your classroom? 

Hmmm….this one is a bit more difficult to describe. I hope I’m
not inaccurate in saying that

my classroom is a balance of fun, craziness,
silliness, hard work and determination
. I’ve been lucky to work alongside some
amazing teachers, so everything I’m about to describe is indicative of all teachers at BVP and not just me. We try to
embody the motto “work hard, play hard.” Learning should be fun and I
want my students to know that it’s okay to let loose and be crazy sometimes. But
we’re also here to learn and grow together, so we set very clear and ambitious
goals for ourselves and our class as a whole. We also strive to build a
supportive community and create an environment where everyone is comfortable
being themselves, taking risks, and knowing they’re part of a team.  On
any given day, you could walk into our classroom and see everyone smiling,
scholars leading discussions or working in groups, defending their opinions,
correcting mistakes and having fun. 

What have you encountered that has helped you
grow into the educator you are today? 

The most important thing I’ve realized is to be authentic. The
teachers that I’ve learned the most from are the ones who allow their real
personality through in everything. I always thought that it was important to
develop my own “teaching persona.” I would hear people say things like
“teacher voice” and ” teacher stare.” I thought for a time that maybe
I had to act differently in order to teach successfully. I’m not saying that
those things aren’t important, because I absolutely have developed my own
repertoire of teacher tricks, but I’ve also realized that being your authentic self is the best way to make your teaching accessible to kids.
It’s so important to build trust and mutual respect with my students and the only way to do that is to treat each scholar as an individual. I strive to
get to know all of my students as people. Sure it’s important to know their
academic strengths and weaknesses, but that’s just a small part of who they are. They
come through our doors as scholars, but they were people first. 

Congratulations Andy! BVP is proud to have you as a member of our team!