2023 Wasabi Fenway Bowl: Meet the Honor Roll Finalists

December 13, 2023By Julie Barry

The second annual Wasabi Fenway Bowl is gearing up to take place at Fenway Park on December 28th, 2023. Along with hosting the game itself, one of the most rewarding parts of the Wasabi Fenway Bowl is the Fenway Bowl Honor Roll. Launched in 2020, The Fenway Bowl Honor Roll strives to acknowledge the outstanding, heroic, and determined efforts of educators, administrators and support staff members across the New England area. Nominated by their friends, family, coworkers and students, these standout educators will receive a grant to further their mission of delivering the highest level of education.  

The three individuals chosen to be this year’s Monster Finalists have truly inspiring yet different educational journeys. Each finalist has a unique background that directly influences their teaching methodologies and how they connect with their students.  

The three Monster Finalists this year are Jasmine Gonzalez, a fifth-grade teacher at Hayden McFadden Elementary school in New Bedford, Massachusetts; Robert Ackerman, a fifth-grade math and science teacher at Chenery upper Elementary School in New Bedford, Massachusetts; and David Cuddington, a business and technology teacher at Norton High School in Massachusetts.  

There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic affected everyone, especially children in critical times of their educational development. The role of an educator post COVID-19 has been magnified. While each very different, all three finalists agreed that COVID-19 has affected the way that their teaching is done, and the role of a teacher had to change with these new circumstances.  

Ackerman has not only taken on the mission to teach his students to the best of his ability, but also how to become part of an outside world that they were excluded from because of the virus. “The content area deficiencies are less of a focus for me because that stuff can always be learned later in life,” Ackerman said, “But what really matters the most is how you’re able to be a human in a community and how you can function amongst others.”  

David Cuddington also saw the importance of community in school, and took it upon himself to reach out to his students. “What I remember was how starved everyone was just to talk after being isolated for that long. So, I started basically creating a rapport with students,” said Cuddington. “It turned into a situation where within a couple months I knew as many of the kids’ names as anyone in the building.” As Cuddinton saw the need for meaningful face to face relationships after the virus, he began to bond with as many students at Norton High School as he possibly could, principally over music. Soon, Cuddington was a fixture at school sporting events and other extracurricular activities. Cuddington was not only making each student feel seen, he was also growing as a person himself. “Those kids didn’t realize what they were doing for me, they were helping me get on the path to becoming a better version of myself,” said Cuddington.  

Jasmine Gonzalez noticed a glaring difference in her post-pandemic students’ confidence. She dedicated herself to building that confidence back up in her students. “[I want to] let them know that I believe in them, let them know that they are safe here, that they can make mistakes because we all do,” said Gonzalez. 

Sports have played a huge role in developing each finalists' teaching style into what it is today. Ackerman has participated in karate since the age of three and has instructed karate for 11 years, even incorporating its ideas and philosophy into his teaching. “I try to make everything as fun as possible, make it engage and make it interesting,” said Ackerman.  

Along with being a fifth-grade teacher, Gonzalez also created the Hayden McFadden cheerleading team when she first got to the school eight years ago. Having a background in cheerleading herself helped this idea come to fruition. “It’s been really rewarding to see the impact that cheerleading has had on the girls and boys that have been on the team,” said Gonzalez. “It teaches them the importance of discipline, hard work, self-confidence and perseverance. I’ve seen how it had translated to the classroom.” Hayen McFadden Elementary School is now the only elementary school in New Bedford with a cheerleading team.  

While Ackerman, Gonzalez and Cuddington are all from different backgrounds and have different teaching styles, they share the passion and love for teaching the next generation. 

Cuddington was led to teaching through his son. At soccer camp, the campers heard Cuddington’s son refer to him as “Pops” and collectively adopted the nickname for him. Now, students at his school call him “Pops” too. The connection and leadership he was able to create with the next generation opened his eyes to his true calling of being an educator. Since that epiphany he has done just that and hasn’t looked back since. “I feel pretty lucky. It’s about connection and really the connection of the young people,” he said.  

Jasmine's passion for teaching stems from growing up and going to a school that was not very diverse. Some years, she would be the only girl of color in her class or some years the only person of color. This led to Jasmine not always having the best educational experiences growing up and would sometimes feel isolated from her fellow students. From a young age she knew that she wanted to make a change. “I remember growing up thinking to myself, ‘If I’m a teacher I would make my classroom inclusive. Everyone would feel welcome. It doesn’t matter what you look like,’” she said.  

“Going home that day and knowing that you had an impact and made a difference in someone’s life,” said Ackerman. For these Monster Finalists, their passion for teaching is more than a career. They go above and beyond to ensure they make an impact in the lives of their students and foster community in their schools. 

For the full list of winners, visit the Boston Globe.

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