Left to right: State Senator Michael Gianaris, UFT President Michael Mulgrew, Jamie Cacciola-Price, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Frank Sinatra School Principal Donna Finn, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas.
New York State honored a drama teacher from the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts last Friday for inspiring his students and his dedication to arts education.
Jamie Cacciola-Price, who teaches advanced acting techniques, musical theatre, playwriting and directing at the Long Island City high school, was one of 61 teachers out of 200,000 statewide to receive the award.
The Empire State Excellence in Teaching Award also comes with a $5,000 stipend.
Overcome with emotion, Cacciola-Price thanked his students for being his inspiration.
“I am so fortunate to be able to share my passion with you each and every day,” he said. “Coming to work is an absolute joy.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo presented the award to Cacciola-Price. Cuomo’s mother was a teacher, which he said helped him recognize the importance of having skilled educators in the classroom.
“That’s why rewarding teachers, appreciating teachers is so very important. It’s something we have not done enough of, frankly,” Cuomo said. “We talk about funding and tests and evaluations, we don’t say the talent and drive of the teacher is the most important.”
Cacciola-Price has taught at Frank Sinatra since 2013. Before coming to the school, the arts educator was an actor, director, playwright, choreographer, costume designer and set designer.
According to Cuomo, Cacciola-Price used to travel to schools that couldn’t afford an arts program and designed a program for them. He also worked with homeless LGBT youth at Sylvia’s Place, a facility in Manhattan.
Cacciola-Price is now pursuing his doctorate at New York University’s Steinhardt School. He thanked Cuomo for choosing an arts educator to be included in the list of the state’s top teachers.
“Often times as an arts educator, you have to justify your purpose. In some schools, they don’t have drama programs or music programs,” he said. “The fact that you’ve taken the time to honor a drama teacher means the world to me and the students in this room.”
He recounted meeting Cuomo once at a 2011 rally during the state’s passage of the marriage equality law, where he shook the governor’s hand.
“As a person who is gay and there are students in this room who are also gay, that legislation has made a huge difference in my life and will certainly matter to them,” he said. “Maybe not now, but maybe in a few years.”
In front of a large group of students, Cacciola-Price said his drama classes teach students how to analyze, research and understand the human experience. Students become well versed in “issues of injustice in our society,” he said, including LGBT issues, homelessness, gentrification and other social justice issues.
They explore all of these subjects while improving their crafts as actors, director, designers and writers.
Cacciola-Price directs four productions per season. He and the students spend up to three hours after school and all day on Saturdays to put on the plays.
“The reason I do this is because of all of you who are here,” he said to the students. “It is never a chore, it is always a pleasure. The reason for that is all of you.”
The governor was praised by both Principal Donna Finn and UFT president Michael Mulgrew for the $24.8 billion state investment in education in last year’s budget.
They both also held up the arts school as an elite, one-of-a-kind public school in New York.
“This is a school that’s a shining example that when you engage students, when they want to be in their school everyday, when they’re learning things that make them happy, they’re going to learn and perform and do great things in life,” Mulgrew said. “Education is not just about the test or your subjects that you go to class for. Education is about building you as a whole person.”
Cuomo proudly boasted on Friday about the state’s $2 billion investment in new technology in schools, in addition to new buildings and funding for other programs.
“We spend more per student in this state than any state in the United States of America,” he said, “and we’re very proud of that.”