Newswise — ESSEX, NY – Two educators, one from the Adirondacks and the other from Florida’s Gulf Coast, were given the Mario Peña Award at the CFES National Conference for their work helping underserved youth gain access to higher education and careers.

Rachael Charron of Crown Point Central School (NY) and Haley Shaffer of Booker Middle School in Sarasota received the award given annually in honor of former CFES Board Member, Mario Peña, to an exceptional educator who helps develop and expand school-college collaborations that increase college access and success for underserved youth.

“Haley and Rachael have built two of the most successful CFES programs in the country,” said CFES President Rick Dalton. “Their innovative initiatives are having major impacts on the life trajectories of all of their students.” 

Charron, an English teacher and CFES liaison, was recognized for running mentoring programs including her senior English class mentoring ninth-graders by helping them create professional job resumes. She helped coordinate a CFES College and Career Fair and an Alumni Panel featuring CPCS graduates who talk about their career paths and offer advice. She also works on the “Adopt a College” program where classrooms conduct research on a college, take virtual tours, and give final presentations.

“Mrs. Charron has played a significant role in my life, both as a teacher and a friend,” said Crown Point and CFES alum Erik DuShane, a junior at the University of Rochester. “She showed me a world beyond my small town, helped me reach my full potential, and continues to support me in all my endeavors. She is the best example of what a teacher should be.”

Shaffer, a social studies teacher, was recognized for helping launch an innovative new course in 2018 that expanded on a school-wide CFES program with an increased emphasis on Essential Skills and college and career readiness. The majority of students in the course, which includes sixth, seventh and eighth-graders, will be first-generation college students.

“I am honored and thrilled to receive this award,” said Shaffer. “I had no idea I was going to get it so it was a pleasant surprise. It’s reflective of the hard work and dedication of all of the staff at Booker Middle.”

Students in the course collected over 200 pairs of pajamas for needy children through the Florida Department of Children and Families. Visiting college campuses and exposing students to career opportunities has also been a major focus. Shaffer coordinates trips with a “career of the month” theme such as healthcare or engineering and has a trip planned to the University of Florida with the Florida Engineering Experiment Station (FLEX Station), where 42 students will participate in hands-on engineering activities in campus labs.