Year Honored: 2017
Yavneh Hebrew Academy
Los Angeles, CA
Jenny Zacuto puts as much emphasis on learning how to learn as she does reading and writing. The eighth-grade English teacher and Language Arts director at Yavneh Hebrew Academy, a K-8 school, teaches students how their brains process and store information and uses “growth mindset” language. Ms. Zacuto covers their writing with comments, devising rules and strategies for each student that carry over into revisions and future assignments. Her students read consistently, track their own progress, and write reflections on the texts and their own reading habits. Struggling readers call on the strategies Ms. Zacuto has taught them, from reading more slowly to “creating the movie in their minds”; skilled readers look for advanced literary devices such as themes, motifs or irony. This mindset applies beyond school: “They learn that they have the power to magnify their own growth with the choices they make for themselves, even when adults are not watching them,” says Ms. Zacuto.
The child of educators, Ms. Zacuto wasn’t interested in teaching in the classroom and planned on graduate studies in English after earning her bachelor’s degree from Loyola Marymount. A gap year teaching at Yavneh changed her mind, and she earned a master’s degree in educational technology from Columbia Teachers College. “I felt humbled, moved and inspired by children who were far more capable of growth than they, and often others, thought they were,” she says. Ms. Zacuto left Yavneh for a secular school but quickly discovered that she missed the Jewish community and has been at Yavneh for 17 years. “Jewish values fostered the kind of spiritual and respectful community I knew was so important to true growth.”
As part of Yavneh’s General Studies leadership team, Ms. Zacuto develops curriculum and provides professional development. She enjoys helping students become proficient, confident readers and writers; critical thinkers who can analyze ideas and formulate strong arguments; creative minds who use their imaginations; and inspired learners who truly enjoy reading, writing and personal growth. Ms. Zacuto also guides students’ work habits, offering strategies, letting them choose what works, and reinforcing their responsibility to track their own progress. Ms. Zacuto reminds them of the long game: “Making mindful choices, and taking the time and effort to really grow, will not often be fast or easy, but it will result in the kind of true achievement and authentic growth that leads to real, deep happiness.”
Note: This biography was current at the time this educator received the Award