In a classroom at Frederick Douglass Elementary in Miami, five young children formed a semicircle around their young teacher. It was reading time.
Marquise Curry read the first paragraph and Jeremiah Marshall read the second.
“What are odd jobs?” asked their teacher, Angelica Fulchini.
A few blurted out possible answers, a few raised their hands, and Naomi Cooper went back to the reading assignment to see if the answer was there.
“I love how Naomi is looking back and forth,” Fulchini said, encouraging the other students in her group to do the same.
It’s that kind of reinforcement, plus the relationship Fulchini has with her students and their parents, that helped her get nominated for and win the County’s Rookie Teacher of the Year award.
The award recognizes teachers who are in their first through fifth years of teaching and is voted on by teaching peers and district leaders.
“Sometimes those awards are popularity contests,” said Yolanda Ellis, principal of the school. “Not for her.”
However, if things had gone the way her father wanted after she graduated from the University of Florida, Fulchini would be a lawyer now.
Fulchini was born in Fort Lauderdale and raised in Vero Beach, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English and political science and received a master’s degree in education from the University of Miami.
Like most parents, Fulchini’s father wanted her to pursue the law or medical professions. But then he saw her passion for teaching.
“When I showed him I’d be giving back to communities he understood and agreed that this is something I need to take hold of and do 100 percent,” Fulchini said.
Her career path changed while at UF and she decided to join Teach for America, an organization that recruits, trains, and develops people of all academic disciplines to commit two years to teach in high-need schools.
Fulchini is in her third year of commitment and said she wants to remain in education as long as she possibly can. She’s also planning to get a doctoral degree in education.
She said the 19 kids in her classroom are why she wants to continue being an educator.
“When you see a kid go from not being able to read to moving up to a fourth-grade level and you’re the reason, it’s amazing,” Fulchini said.
She said the good days will always outweigh the bad ones — even the toughest of days, like last year when her second-grade class was mostly special education and emotional behavior disorder kids.
There were days when one of them would throw temper tantrums and act out of frustration for not being able to read at his grade level.
“You had to peel away the layers to get to his self esteem to tell him that he was smart because for so long he was told that he was not at the level he needs to be,” she said.
Fulchini said that through Teach for America she learned to analyze which benchmarks students should work on most and to work with the kids individually to achieve them.
Fulchini makes sure her kids’ parents are aware of their growth and academic development.
Teachers at Frederick Douglass are required to have meetings with parents, and Fulchini said she enjoys meeting with them outside the classroom as well.
“Whenever family invites me I try to go because it’s an honor to be included in their daily life,” she said.
Fulchini considers herself fortunate that the Overtown community has welcomed her.
“I’m really lucky I was accepted into the community because they’re so supportive,” she said. “It’s a small family-oriented community, once you’re accepted you are forever.”
Fulchini said she wants to continue teaching in elementary because she believes it’s the base upon which the rest of education is built.
“If you don’t have a strong foundation… there’s no way you’re going to have success in middle school or high school,” she said.