Distinguished Graduates Honored at Annual BSCAA Awards Ceremony

BSCAA Alumni Award Winner 2022
Cynthia Turnquest-Jones, Allyx Schiavone, Bank Street President Shael Polakow-Suransky, Shavon Frazier, Abby Kerlin, and Zakiya Mills (daughter of the late Zipporiah Mills)

On Friday, June 3, the Bank Street College Alumni Association (BSCAA) hosted a ceremony for its annual Alumni Awards, a tradition that recognizes outstanding alumni for their contributions and dedication to the field of education. Five awardees were honored at the ceremony, which brought together the winners, their families and friends, Bank Street alumni, faculty, and staff to celebrate their accomplishments.

This year, the awards ceremony marked the start of a series of celebratory events and activities at Bank Street’s first-ever Alumni Weekend, which invited alumni of Bank Street Graduate School of Education, School for Children, and Liberty LEADS back to the College to connect with each other and be in community. 

The 2022 BSCAA Alumni Awards were presented to Abby Kerlin, GSE ’00 (Distinguished Service Award), Allyx Schiavone, GSE ’94 (Recognition Award), Cynthia Turnquest-Jones, GSE ’09 (Recognition Award), and Shavon Frazier, GSE ’12, ’17 (Recent Graduate Award). This year’s Ida Karp Award, which recognizes a graduate or non-graduate for its consistent and outstanding dedication to Bank Street College, was presented posthumously to Zipporiah (Zipp) Mills. During the ceremony, BSCAA officers and members of the advisory board introduced each honoree before the winners took the stage to deliver speeches about their personal and professional journeys and commitment to building a better world through education. 

To begin, BSCAA President Erica Davis, GSE ‘11, conferred the Distinguished Service Award upon Abby Kerlin, GSE ‘00. In her years as a first, second, and third grade teacher, Abby’s close observation of children fueled an interest in the relationship between curriculum and cognitive development in students. Today, Abby serves as an instructor in early childhood curriculum and director of general education programs at Bank Street Graduate School as well as director of Bank Street’s Long Trip, continuing to further the beliefs and practices of the College in her work.

Following Kerlin’s award presentation, board member Jim Clay, GSE ’88, introduced Schiavone, GSE ’94, executive director of Friends Center for Children. Clay described the Recognition Award-winner as being “perfectly committed to carrying out the mission of Bank Street beyond New York City” and “a thought leader in early childhood education for all communities in New Haven.” Schiavone’s career spans over three decades and touches all corners of the field, including teaching preschool and elementary education, writing and supervising curricula, and founding the New Haven Children’s Ideal Learning District (NHChILD), in addition to her current role at Friends Center for Children. 

According to Schiavone, her life’s work is guided by a “personal responsibility or a social responsibility to humanity,” an ideal that was nurtured during her time as a Bank Street graduate student. “Every day, I rely on the tools that I learned as a student at Bank Street,” she said. “Our collective work as educators, as leaders, and as humans, is to fight to create space for children to be able to flow effortlessly through the developmental stages of their learning.”

This year’s second Recognition Award went to Turnquest-Jones, GSE ’09, who was introduced by Margaret Ryan, GSE ’01, Vice President of BSCAA. Turnquest-Jones’ work “exemplifies the spirit and philosophy of Bank Street,” said Ryan as she chronicled her many outstanding contributions to the field of education, most recently as founder of Tha Brown Urban Mother Partners, Inc. (Tha BUMP), an organization that supports females in communities and families who suffer from the tragedy of their loved ones being harmed or murdered. 

In her acceptance speech, Turnquest-Jones narrated highlights from her life’s story, beautifully capturing the experiences that inspired the equity-centered mission behind her work. In addition to her current role with Tha BUMP,  she is also passionate about racial and cultural equity in books for young readers, noting how important it is for Black and Brown readers to see themselves in the pages. She has joined forces with the law enforcement community of Mount Vernon, New York to donate books to young readers. 

“Bank Street professors intentionally reminded us to be a part of social change,” she said. She also commented: “Bank Street continues to whisper to you once you leave,” she said with a smile, inviting laughter from the audience.

Next up was the bestowal of the Recent Graduate Award to Frazier, GSE ’12, ’17, an early childhood educator at PS 184, The Newport School, in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Frazier was welcomed by Becky Hamilton Scudieri, GSE ’08, Secretary of BSCAA, who noted that this particular award is not given out every year and is only presented when deemed appropriate, which speaks to Frazier’s impact on the world of education.

And that is just what she focused on in her acceptance speech: the importance of impact. She opened with the question, “What is your impact? What impact do you have on your own career, those around you, and your family and friends?” She went on to share her journey as an educator—the ups and downs, successes and failures. She also recalled some of the advice encouraging her to focus her career on all grades, which she chose to ignore in order to follow her passion specifically for early childhood education.

Frazier expressed that she wants her impact to be significant and reach far beyond the children and families in her classroom. And it has—recently, she represented her fellow early childhood educators and New York City Department of Education colleagues at the UFT Listen Up Panel, where she was chosen from over 500 applicants to be one of eight educators to discuss class size, curriculum, and developmentally appropriate practice. Her contributions to the field of education span far and wide, and she embodies the values she learned at Bank Street in her work every day.

“One of the things I learned from Bank Street and I take with me, besides impact, is this idea of reflection. Reflecting constantly on everything that you do, from the time you wake up in the morning from the time you go to sleep at night.”

Concluding the ceremony was a moving presentation by Takiema Bunche-Smith, GSE ’97, a colleague and dear friend of the late Zipp Mills, who received this year’s Ida Karp Award posthumously. The two worked closely together at Bank Street’s Center on Culture, Race & Equity (CCRE), a team that partners with educators, community members, and leaders to collaboratively shift beliefs, behaviors, and practices so that children of all backgrounds can thrive and realize their full potential.

Bunche-Smith’s touching presentation, titled “The Magic of Zipporiah Mills,” offered a glimpse into Mills as an educator and as a human being. According to Bunche-Smith, Mills “spent her entire career espousing the ideals that Bank Street puts forth” and had a “vision about centering children that always guided her. She was never afraid, and it inspired us to be brave.”

Mills spent the last phase of her life working at CCRE, following three decades as an educator and school leader in New York City. Throughout her career and during her time at Bank Street, she channeled her passionate commitment to equity by supporting educators to understand their identities, the biases they hold, and the challenges that exist in school ecosystems. She valued community as a powerful driver for change and, according to Bunche-Smith, brought a “calming presence” to whatever she did, wherever she was—which touched those around her and made better work possible. 

Quoted in Bunche-Smith’s presentation was a powerful testimonial from a colleague of Mills that read, “She modeled for all of us what it meant to love deeply and center the humanity of all children, particularly for Black children who have been left behind.”

After sharing a few stories and anecdotes about Mills, as well as some of her life goals and achievements, Bunche-Smith welcomed Mills’ children to the stage to accept the Ida Karp Award on their mother’s behalf. 

“Whether you knew my mom personally or professionally, you knew educational equity was at the heart of her being,” said her daughter, Zakiyah Mills. “She recognized early in her career that the importance of a learning environment would advance the minds of children beyond any limitation. She has always gone above and beyond for the sake of equity, equality, and excellence in education.”

Her daughter also shared the exciting news that PS 261, in which Mills worked as a tenured principal, will soon be renamed to Zipporiah Mills School to honor the lasting legacy that Mills left on the school and her spirit that energized the community.

Following the ceremony in Tabas Auditorium, attendees transitioned to the outdoor Play Deck for the Tar Beach Reunion Reception. After several years of not being able to physically gather, guests were thrilled to be able to celebrate the award winners in person and enjoy face-to-face time with colleagues and peers.