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April 16, 2008

New York State Teacher of the Year: Richard Ognibene Jr.

Source: NYSUT Constituency Awards 2008

Richard Ognibene Jr.

Fairport Educators Association

Richard Ognibene Jr.Richard Ognibene has no problem waxing poetic about the profession he loves. He speaks with passion about the "emotional challenge" of connecting with students and the "intellectual challenge" of making science understandable. With a wide grin, he speaks proudly of his love for homecoming and "all its corny traditions." And his words are heartfelt when he talks of the "deep, abiding friendships" he's formed with colleagues.

But ask why he teaches and Ognibene's answer is really quite simple.

"I teach," he says, "because I can't imagine spending my life doing anything else."

A 22-year classroom veteran, Ognibene has been teaching chemistry and physics the last 15 years at Fairport High School in suburban Rochester. Known for the energy and passion he brings to his lectures, he'll stop at almost nothing to make science both accessible and fun for his students. Fire, explosions, even playing Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and dancing a few steps  - all are used by Ognibene to demonstrate the principles behind chemistry and physics.

"I think when a teacher enjoys what they do, and when a teacher loves the students as Rich does, the kids can't help but learn and have fun doing it," Fairport High School Principal Dave Paddock said.

"Science always seems too hard at first. But if you stick it out with me, I'm going to promise you we're going to get through this together," Ognibene tells his students. "When you need help, you're going to come to me and we're going to make it happen. If you stay at it long enough, it won't seem so hard after a while."

Known affectionately by his students as "Mr. O," Ognibene is an adviser to the district's Gay Straight Alliance and is a leader in Fairport's Brotherhood-Sisterhood Week, which focuses on the concepts of civility and respect for all people. An active member of the Fairport Educators Association, he has served as a vice president and building representative. He also has served as a mentor for new science teachers, and worked from 1990-2000 as an adjunct chemistry professor at Monroe Community College.

Ognibene is the recipient of the 2002 American Chemical Society Teacher of the Year Award, and the 2006 Fairport High School Crystal Apple Award for excellence in teaching.

Both of Ognibene's parents are long-time professors at Siena College. While growing up, he learned at an early age from his mother and father that through teaching, "you could change the world."