Year Honored: 2011Townsend Harris High School
At the time of the Award, Rafal Olechowski was:Teacher
Townsend Harris High School
Subject(s) taught: English (ELA)
Grade(s): 9, 10, 11, 12
Rafal Olechowski's classroom may be classified as "reading," but beyond its walls, students engage in a world connecting literature, art, music and history. Olechowski's passion for literature and the broader humanities is reflected in his instructional methods as well, using close reading literary analysis, a “words on walls” strategy, and a white board to demonstrate parallel trends such as those connecting Romantic art and poetry.
Whether students have spirited discussions about the material or incorporate technology to create 3-D book jackets, each is challenged to make the words jump off the page and come to life. One-hundred percent of Olechowski's students passed the New York State Regents Exam in English, with 90 percent earning mastery or higher.
Olechowski's talents have benefited the school as a whole. He transformed the student literary magazine into an award-winning publication, and advises the MALcontents (Music, Art, Literature) student book club. The Phoenix, the student-run literary magazine he oversees, was awarded an esteemed Gold Crown by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association in 2012. In addition, he mentors teachers and participates in professional development for the Common Core Standards.
Olechowski enjoys infusing his students' and fellow faculty's learning experiences with the cultural richness of New York. He established relationships with the 92nd Street Y, as well as the Theater Development Fund's (TDF) Open Doors mentoring program, which pairs high school students with theater and dance professionals. Believing that teachers are lifelong learners, he led a faculty field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to explore interdisciplinary opportunities for creating student projects.