By Jenelyn Russo     9/9/2020

When St. Norbert School principal Joe Ciccoianni interviewed Tawnya Rider three years ago for a teaching position, he knew he had found a special and unique educator to join his staff. 

Soon enough, the St. Norbert community discovered what their principal had seen in Rider, a quiet strength and a level of dedication to teaching that has been inspiring to her students.  

In recognition of the many lives she has impacted, Rider was presented with St. Norbert’s 2020 Nano Nagle Award. 

A tradition that began more than a decade ago, the Nano Nagle Award is presented annually to one teacher at St. Norbert who embodies the life and characteristics of Nano Nagle, the foundress of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was a group of the Presentation Sisters who opened the school back in 1965. 

As directed by the anonymous alumni donor who established the award back in 2009, it is the students who nominate a teacher each year to receive the award. In its current format, Kindergarteners through eighth graders are welcome to submit an essay that addresses preselected virtues of Nagle, how Nagle lived out those virtues and how those same virtues are seen in the teacher they nominate. 

“We want to get the kids to not just to talk about their teacher, but to talk about Nano Nagle and the kind of person she was,” says Ciccoianni 

Nominations are submitted each spring, and despite having moved to a distance learning format back in March, nearly 120 submissions were received from across all grade levels. A five-member panel that included Ciccoianni, as well as Sister Breda Christopher, conducted a blind read and review of the redacted essays. The responses directed toward Rider and how she embraced the selected virtues of hope and cheerfulness this past school year made her the clear winner. 

“She knows how to be a team player and how to give great advice when there is something troubling us,” says one St. Norbert student of Rider. “Every time she teaches, she teaches from the heart.” 

“One way Mrs. Rider shows the virtue of hope is because she never stops believing in the kids she teaches,” says another student. “I think that Mrs. Rider is doing this because she strongly believes that God called her to be a teacher for a purpose…to help kids know about Jesus and his teachings, just like Nano Nagle did.” 

During this year’s parking lot graduation, Ciccoianni read through several of the students’ words about Rider that described how she modeled hope and cheerfulness in the classroom, even through distance learning.  

“It was an incredible honor to hear that [the students] felt that I was so hopeful and cheerful, especially during this crazy time,” says Rider. 

The Nano Nagle Award not only includes a plaque for the honoree, but also a monetary gift that is intended specifically for the recipient’s personal use, not to fund classroom supplies.  

Additionally, the middle school teacher was presented with a lantern, a symbol drawn from Nano Nagle, who was known as the “Lady with the Lantern,” as she would carry a lantern through the dark streets of Cork, Ireland, looking for the poor and sick to help and teach. The lantern has become symbolic of the light these award-winning teachers at St. Norbert, such as Rider, bring to their students. 

“It’s an amazing honor,” says Rider, “and to be recognized by not just necessarily the administration, but by the students themselves is a very amazing feeling.”