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New York State’s 2019 Teacher of the Year Visits Gambia

Alhassan Susso in front of a class teaching

Alhassan Susso, recipient of this  year’s New York State Teacher of the Year award Monday jetted into the country for a two-week working holiday.

The annual award presented by the state Education Department recognizes the most brilliant public school educators in the state. A September 18, 2018 publication by the New York Daily News says the 34-year-old Susso “was chosen out of a field of more than 200,000 educators to receive the honor.”

Gambian Heritage and Limited Eyesight

From The Gambia, Alhassan is said to have moved to the United States as “a poor teenager coping with a rare eye disease with gradual vision loss which he still copes with as a teacher.”

He told The Chronicle “For the visit, I intend to begin a dialogue with educators in the country and how I can contribute to improving the education system in the Gambia.”

One man who knows a thing or two about the New York State Teacher of the Year 2019 is Sulayman Junkung Jobarteh. Ahead of Alhassan’s visit to his homeland, he remarked “Alhassan Susso’s humble background did not deter him from excelling in the United States. He used his background and determination to become the New York State Teacher of the Year. His story is inspiring.”

Touching Young Lives

The educator, author and  speaker  who is credited for  devoting “his career to transforming the lives of young people facing difficulties,” according to a recent publication on the University of Vermont website, commutes two hours by train from Poughkeepsie to his NYC high school, which serves as a diverse population  of recently arrived immigrants. “His presence alone conveys the message that circumstances do not necessarily define destiny,” writes Thomas Weaver in a piece captioned Alhassan Susso ’11.

Alhassan has also been described as a man “who seeks to expand the worldview of young minds through the development of essential life skills necessary to succeed academically, professionally and economically.”

Memoir and Inspiring Teens Program

On his memoir The Light of Darkness: The Story of the Griot’s Son, Alhassan said the  book traces his journey to America as a nearly blind teenager and his trials and triumphs becoming American, while sticking to his deep Gambian roots.  The book is now being used in several schools in the U.S to teach a variety of topics including immigration, overcoming adversity, practicing compassion, etc. Of the book, Optometrist Dr. James Cayea states, “Now that I have read his memoir, The Light of Darkness, I have come to better understand his wisdom and depth. I enjoyed learning about his country, his culture and the values he was raised.”

Alhassan Susso is also the Founder and Director of the Inspiring Teens’ Future program at the International Community High School. “Inspiring Teens is a key reason for his NY Teacher of the Year honor. The Voluntary extra hour before school focuses on skills such as leadership, financial management, and communication, seeking to develop well-rounded individuals prepared for higher education or a solid job after high school.The program has resulted in a boost to standardized exam results from 29 per cent to 69 per cent in one year with a pass rate of over 90 per cent. All of the students who took the program for credit went on to attend college.”

Awards Galoreand a Speaker of International Repute

Alhassan Susso was also named in 2017 as one of “The Top 50 Outstanding Educators in the World” by the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize.  Alhassan is also the recipient of several awards such as the Africa Daylight Award and  the United Federation Teachers’ Andrew Chasen Award. He was recognized by the Dutchess County Legislature, the New York City Mayor’s Office and the New York State Comptroller as the Outstanding Citizen of the Year in 2019.

He graduated with honours from the University of Vermont, and bagged his Masters of Arts in Teaching from Bard College. He now teaches Government, Economics and Personal Development at the International Community High School in the South Bronx in New York City.

For a man having more than one string to his bow, Susso has spoken at numerous venues and events including The United Nations, Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, New York State Association of Teacher Educators Conference, Mercy College, Syracuse University, Bard College, Google for Education, New York State School Board Association Annual Conference, New York State Parent Teacher Association Conference, and St. John’s University in Minnesota.

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