6th-grade teacher is sole Filipina finalist in Big Apple awards

/ 01:14 AM June 24, 2015

Big Apple Awards finalist Rosalinda Sevillejo-Bajolo and husband Joebert. PHOTOS BY ELTON LUGAY

NEW YORK CITY — There is no nobler profession than teaching, it’s often said. In this city, Zamboanga del Sur-born Rosalinda Sevillejo-Bajolo, who became a finalist in the 2015 Big Apple Awards, stood out as the only Filipino among 4,800 teachers nominated this year.

Currently teaching Science at Intermediate School 230 at Jackson Heights in Queens, Bajolo was among the top 27 finalists for the awards.


“It’s a great feeling to be nominated by your school,” Bajolo, who has been teaching for more than 20 years, told in an interview June 15 following the awarding ceremony at the rotunda of the Supreme Court building in Manhattan. “This is a proud moment for me as I never expected to get this far.”

Though she did not get an award, the 6th-grade teacher was inspired by the best practices shared this year.

“The third annual teacher excellence awards honored 12 teachers from all over the city who have devoted their lives to children, and have done it with tremendous distinction, and have shown just how much impact this profession can have,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in his welcome speech.

Magical effect

“They have had that effect on children you could only describe as magical because it’s so powerful, and so lasting, and it is so wonderful to celebrate them.”

The mayor also used the occasion to announce “full-day pre-K for every single child in this city,” referring to New York’s guarantee of a preschool slot for every child starting September. The audience was visibly delighted with this declaration.

Dr. Marietta Timblaco Geraldino, the only Filipino teacher-recipient of the first-ever Big Apple Awards for Teacher Excellence in 2013, has since been a member of the Big Apple Awards team that interviewed the 2014 and 2015 semi-finalists.

“It was a nice opportunity to meet some of NYC’s amazing teachers and hear directly from them their incredible insights on student learning, their best instructional practices, and the transformative work they are doing with their school community,” Geraldino told

“It is my greatest hope that my story here in New York City will serve as an inspiration for the Filipino youth to pursue their dreams,” she added.



Mayor de Blasio with the 2015 Big Apple Awards recipients.

Rigorous process

According to Geraldino, winners of the Big Apple Awards for Teacher Excellence are selected through a very rigorous process. It begins with a citywide open call for nominations during the Fall semester, out of which a select group of 500 nominees are invited to submit an application.

This is followed by a review of applications by a 40-member, cross-divisional committee, after which 100 semi-finalists are invited for interview. About 40 candidates advance to the final round following interviews with the Big Apple Awards team.

The final award recipients are selected by a Board of Judges made up of New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) senior leaders and a representative from the United Federation of Teachers.

Recalling highlights of her teaching career, Bajolo drew a contrast between the Filipino and American systems. She had been a Science teacher for 11 years at Tigbao National High School in Mindanao.

“Our students in the Philippines are more behaved,” she revealed. “Here, you are being challenged by your management skills. You are not only a science teacher but a literacy teacher too. Back in the Philippines, you can become a science teacher and go straight to science with content, but here you have to integrate literacy.”

Only Filipino nominated

The only Filipino teacher in her school to be tapped for the awards, Bajolo did not expect the nomination “because our school is a top school and there are so many good teachers serving the mostly Hispanic student population.”

Bajolo’s working visa was sponsored by the NYCDOE. It was her husband who influenced her to come and teach abroad. Both applied for a position, but only she got hired.

“As far as qualifications, you need to have a bachelor’s degree and a major such as science or math, then you will be required to take three exams: content, ATS [Assessment of Teaching Skills] and LAST [Liberal Arts and Science Test] which is more on literacy,” Bajolo said. “Once you pass, you’ll be issued an initial certification and when you get your green card, a professional certification.”

In his speech, de Blasio quoted writer William Arthur Ward in describing the noble teacher: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”

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TAGS: 2015 Big Apple Awards, Big Apple Awards for Teacher Excellence, New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE), New York City teaching awards, New York mayor Bill de Blasio, Rosalinda Sevillejo-Bajolo, School 230 at Jackson Heights, United Federation of Teachers
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