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Emily Giardina named finalist for NC Beginning Teacher of the Year Award

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Fashion design teacher Emily Giardina is pictured in her classroom at Carrboro High on Monday Jan. 16, 2023.

Carrboro High School teacher Emily Giardina was named a finalist for the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching’s 2023 N.C. Beginning Teacher of the Year Award. Giardina teaches fashion design in the school’s Career and Technical Education program.

Giardina worked in the fashion industry for 15 years, before being furloughed during the coronavirus pandemic. She then moved to Carrboro with her brother and began her career change.

She applied to a Master of Arts in Teaching program at Meredith College and started working in an adaptive curriculum classroom at Rashkis Elementary in January of 2021. There, a coworker told her about an open position for a fashion design teacher at Carrboro High School.

“I was like, ‘I'll apply, why not?’” she said. “I did that for 15 years. I went to school for it. I should be able to teach it.”

She said her classroom focuses on all parts of the design process. 

“Quarter one was a lot of concept and research and kind of researching trends and creating mood boards and concept boards and things like that, and then we moved more into the design stage,” Giardina said. 

She also said her students have now started applying their knowledge to producing real clothing like bucket hats from recycled materials. Students from all backgrounds take Giardina’s class.

“I think I've done a really good job at building a sense of community in the classroom. Everyone feels kind of seen and relaxed, and that's my main goal,” she said. 

Giardina said she was very surprised to be named a finalist for the award. 

“I think it is my background and fashion and working in New York. I'm just used to hitting the ground running and putting a lot of my own time and resources into whatever I do, so, it's nice to be recognized,” she said. 

She also mentioned that the community of teachers at Carrboro High School has been really inspiring during her first year of teaching.

“Carrboro High School, too, is a really unique school," Giardina said. "I just feel like all the teachers and all the staff are so devoted and invested in the school community and the students. When you see that around you, it's so much easier to match that effort and give back.”

Andy Jenks, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools chief communications officer, said the CHCCS community is very happy and excited for Giardina.

“We're extremely proud of Ms. Giardina and the joy she brings into the classroom every day," Jenks said in an email. "The honor of being a finalist for this award is further proof of what we already know: that she's a tremendous teacher who is passionate about what she does. It's a well-deserved recognition!”  

This is the fourth year the NCCAT is giving out this award. 

Karen Sumner, the deputy executive director of NCCAT, said each of the 115 school districts in North Carolina nominate one first-year teacher for the award. Of those nominees, three are chosen as finalists from each of the eight regional districts in North Carolina, along with charter school finalists as well.

Sumner said all 27 finalists will go to NCCAT’s campus retreat in Cullowhee, N.C., from March 6 to 10. 

“They have a week of professional development, but also during that time, they have interviews and their portfolios are scored by a group of judges who are representative of all areas of the state, and then those judges determine via those interviews and portfolio scoring, the winner and runner up,” she said. 

Sumner mentioned the judges will be looking for a first-year teacher who has set themselves apart from their colleagues and can answer tough questions. 

She said the judges might ask questions like, “What have you done to support students to encourage student learning, to build community in your classroom, to build relationships, to educate and go beyond the barriers that so many of our students experience and help them learn and grow?”

Giardina said she is looking forward to the professional development retreat since she lacks a professional learning community at Carrboro High School as the only fashion design teacher.

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“I don't think there's any other fashion design teachers, but it'll still be nice to be able to unpack teaching practices with other individuals and learn from each other because I don't have as much opportunity to do that during the regular school day,” she said. 

The award winner and runner-up will be announced on March 9 with a celebration beginning at 7:15 p.m., according to Sumner.  

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