Noticing their hard work: Grinspoon Foundation honors Cisse and Fruth

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    French teacher Oumy Cisse and music teacher Todd Fruth were honored with Grinspoon Foundation awards for excellence in teaching. Photo: Sophie Schreyer
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    French teacher Oumy Cisse and music teacher Todd Fruth were honored with Grinspoon Foundation awards for excellence in teaching. Photo: Courtesy of Todd Fruth

ARHS French teacher Oumy Cisse and choral director Todd Fruth recently learned they had won the Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award, given annually by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

According to the foundation, the award honors “outstanding Western Massachusetts educators in Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden counties and seeks to motivate teachers at all stages of their careers to aspire to excellence.”

Oumy Cisse is a French teacher originally from Senegal. She teaches French 1, French 2, and French 3. Ms. Cisse has taught at the high school since 2002.

“I was very surprised [to learn of the award],” said Ms. Cisse. “I got an email from the principal that said ‘I want to see you. If you have the time, stop by.’ I thought, ‘Which parent emailed?’ I didn’t expect this at all. It’s really an honor.”

“I was always interested in being a teacher. I was inspired by my mom,” she said. “My mom worked as a social worker, so she always had students. She would tell stories about her classes,” she said.

One of Ms. Cisse’s paternal aunts was an English teacher at a high school in Senegal, as well. “The teachers I had growing up loved what they were doing, and I think I was inspired by that,” she said.

When she came to the U.S., she decided to do a masters in bilingual education.

“What I love about teaching is the opportunity I have to be creative with my own work and designing my lessons,” Ms. Cisse said.

“I don’t want my classes to be boring, so everyday I search for new techniques, new strategies to teach the same things in multiple ways so that it grabs the students’ attention and they learn by having fun,” she added. “My philosophy is [rooted in students] learning in a creative way and enjoying what [they] are learning.”

Ms. Cisse is planning on applying for the Classroom Innovator Award, a supplementary award where teachers submit a plan to try something new in their classrooms.

The prize is an additional $250 so teachers can “experiment with project-based learning.”  

While Ms. Cisse is not sure what she will do yet, she knows wants to incorporate her culture.

Todd Fruth, the other award winner, is a music teacher at ARHS who conducts Concert Choir, Hurricane Singers, and the ARHS Chorale.

He also teaches Music Theory, Music Production, and sometimes a music class at Summit Academy.

“I was certainly surprised,” said Mr. Fruth of the award. “I was not expecting to win it at all.”

Mr. Fruth is in his third year of teaching at ARHS and he said he learned that Dr. Gromacki, the current principal, was impressed by how she has seen the music department grow.

“I’m just honored that the administration and other people are noticing the work I do and think that I’m doing a good job. That means a lot,” said Mr. Fruth.

He realized after graduating from Amherst College that he wanted to become a teacher.

He spent one year at his alma mater as a teaching assistant, leading ear training classes for musicians. He realized that he not only loved teaching others and learning about music, but seeing people grow into independent musicians.

“The cool thing about being a choir teacher is you get to see their growth not only over a year, but four years,” said Mr. Fruth.

Mr. Fruth and Ms. Cisse will receive an award plaque, two tickets to a private gala reception, two tickets to the Awards Banquet, course tuition at participating colleges/universities, a one year membership to WGBY, a limited time membership at a YMCA and the Springfield Jewish Community Center, and a check for $500.

As for the prize money, Mr. Fruth said he will “probably put it into a savings account.”

Separately, Mr. Fruth has already saved up money in order travel to Hawaii this summer. After this trip, he will have traveled to all fifty states.

Ms. Cisse is not sure what she will spend it on, but she is thinking about traveling back to Montreal, to do “something fun and something that would contribute to my teaching.”

The awards banquet will take place on Wednesday, May 15 for Hampshire and  Franklin Counties.