For spreading kindness, Ashton teacher wins $25,000 for her school

For spreading kindness, Ashton teacher wins $25,000 for her school

Ashton Elementary School teacher Jillian Pullano and some of her former students celebrating the afternoon after Pullano learned that she won the first statewide Alan Shawn Feinstein Educator Award. (Breeze photos by Charles Lawrence)

CUMBERLAND – On a hot, humid afternoon Monday, 4th-grade teacher Jillian Pullano, who is currently out on maternity leave, was asked to come visit her former students at Ashton Elementary School.

Little did she know as she walked down the hallway lined with her current students, and into a gymnasium full of her former students, that they were all there to honor her and bestow a gift.

Ashton Principal Nidia Karbonik welcomed Pullano, her family and all of her students, telling Pullano know that she had won the first statewide Alan Shawn Feinstein Educator Award and was receiving a check for $25,000 for herself and the school.

Karbonik said the Rhode Island Department of Education and Alan Shawn Feinstein Foundation reached out seeking applications for the inaugural award. With the criteria of an educator who imparts kindness while impacting students in a positive way not only within the school but in the community, Karbonik said she was very excited to submit Pullano’s name for the award.

Pullano, now a 4th-grade teacher, had 2nd-graders last year who are now 3rd-graders. As she saw the gym filled with her students waving their pom-poms she raised hands and smiled.

“So surprised, so surprised, but what a wonderful surprise,” she said about how she felt when she walked in. “I mean, it’s outstanding. It’s amazing, it really is. It was all because of them and to be their support. Totally surprised.”

Of the $25,000 won, $10,000 goes to Ashton as a school and another $13,000 is going to 13 classroom teachers, including Pullano, for classroom purposes. The last $2,000 goes to Pullano for her personal use.

Pullano puts on a kindness campaign each school year encouraging her students to be kind to themselves and each other and to then take it beyond the school grounds. Last year, the project was to compile 100 acts of kindness. Karbonik detailed to the crowd how the project worked with students filling out paper hearts with their acts of kindness to decorate their doors and inspire other students to be kind. Prizes included lunch with a teacher.

As the students completed their project, they wanted to do more.

“You were so into this idea of helping each other that you wanted to continue to think of ideas of how to be kind to each other and do more acts of kindness,” Karbonik said, addressing the 3rd-graders.

She added that they pulled her into their classroom one day with an idea for a book drive. Pullano supported it and the students ran with it.

“I do a kindness campaign every year and then the book donation was totally the kids’ idea,” Pullano said. “We had a lot of used books in the classroom that were kind of ready to move on and ready for a new home. We spread the word out to homes and the kids brought back books to share with kids in need.”

Books were donated to Books Are Wings and other organizations, but there were still some left over. Karbonik said they collected 957 books. A 2nd-grader, Ben Ambrose, came up with the idea of building a Little Free Library and putting it outside in the playground. The 5th-graders helped out, building the library and donating it to the school as their graduating gift.

Pullano, who teaches math and science, is done for the year and will return in the fall, but she said her visit was quite special.

“Amazing,” she said about the award and the money. “It’s amazing what kindness does. It’s great to give to the district and the school.”

Karbonik also presented Pullano with a personal check from the Feinstein Foundation as well as an official award along with a bouquet of flowers.

“I love Ashton School. It’s such an amazing family I have,” said Pullano

Cumberland Supt. Bob Mitchell was also on hand to offer congratulations. He let it be known that Ashton Elementary School has been nominated as a Blue Ribbon school.

Ashton Elementary School teacher Jillian Pullano, pictured at right with her Alan Shawn Feinstein Educator Award for 2021, and some celebratory flowers, arrives at the school Monday for the surprise announcement that she won, which includes a check for the school for $25,000. To the left she is surprised.
7158 Cumberland Ashton Elementary School Teacher Jillian Pullano arrives at the school on June 7th and is surprised to find elementary school students lining the corridor into the gym. Valley Breeze photo by Charles Lawrence