Gaining STEAM

When looking to locate a site where she could continue to cultivate young minds, Jayda Pugliese, despite amazing credentials and impressive ideas honed through numerous stops, met with rejection more than three dozen times. Securing employment at Andrew Jackson School, the 29-year-old has proven that persistence can propel one’s ambition to the highest reaches, as she claimed the school year’s initial Milken Educators Award Oct. 5.

“It’s still overwhelming to think about when I consider how few people receive it,” she said from her fifth-grade, Passyunk Square-based classroom of the national honor that only 34 more peers will claim come June. “I feel like I hit the lottery.”

The second-year mathematics and science instructor collected $25,000 through a school-related ceremony, and although the endowment, which will help to cover her educational leadership and administration doctoral studies at Holy Family University, will assist her growth, she, as she has always done, considers tending to her pupils’ evolution as a far more lucrative endeavor.

“I enjoy learning and love promoting it, too,” Pugliese said. “I especially think of myself as very fortunate in being able to explore that at Jackson, which is a place I call home and which believes in putting higher expectations on the student body.”

Minus an application process, the Milken Family Foundation, celebrating its 34th year, does not fully disclose how it becomes aware of standout educators, but that became of no concern for the local honoree when she entered the annals as a winner. A look at her stunning résumé lets one believe the overseers could have commended her for plenty of reasons, with Pugliese most proud of learners’ receptivity to her Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM) initiative.

“Education is always changing because it’s striving to adapt to what’s going on in the world and trying to help us to communicate better and gain more confidence,” she said. “I want my students to know not only that they have a voice but also that their voice is going to resonate when they really apply themselves.”

STEAM, through its inclusion of a 3-D printer, which her charges call on to manage a classroom company; microscopes; and snap circuits, gives youths constant affirmations of the power of their contributions to the Jackson community and their contemporaries’ lives.

“Twenty-first century learning has to be practical, but that doesn’t mean that we ask the bare minimum from our kids,” Pugliese said. “If we believe in ourselves as educators, I feel that ambition will be contagious.”

THE BELLA VISTA-BRED winner always felt drawn to a life in education, initially helping registrants at the Palumbo Recreation Center to raise their spirits and pulses, particularly through gymnastics. A product of Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School, she enrolled at Holy Family for her undergraduate and graduate courses. Once her mission to mold youngsters’ dreams started to take shape, first through tutoring and assistant teaching, she knew she would devote every available moment to being a facilitator for their development.

“Each day is a new chance to brighten so many lives, especially those that might feel they are inferior,” Pugliese, who, through being hearing impaired, especially relates to those who want to overcome obstacles, said. “This is a perfect school for blending ideas and being daring in the sense that the end result will be a new take on something that might have stumped them or a completely new way of thinking about something.”

Along with her Jackson responsibilities, which include being a professional learning community leader and the founder of the award-winning Healthy Youth Physical Education program, the tireless educator, who makes her home in Bensalem with her son and husband, has aligned herself with, among others, the Police Athletic League, the Steppingstone Scholars program at William Penn Charter School, and The Philadelphia Zoo, for whom she served as a teacher advisory council member. Yes, Pugliese noted, she does sleep and likes the challenge of forging a balance between her professional and personal lives.

“I feel a little different, for sure,” the future principal or superintendent said of reflecting on her Milken acknowledgment. “However, I’m not going to change who I am as a teacher. I still want to help my students to believe and achieve. Award or no award, that’s how I define myself as a teacher.” SPR

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at