NJEA celebrates women

NJEA held its third Celebration of Women on March 10 at the Grand Marquis in Old Bridge. NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Petal Robertson and Wayne Township educator Lauren Spiller hosted the event.

Three women in particular were honored at the event: MaryJo Nagy, Spring Williams and Aida Wahba.

To view more photos from the event, see NJEA’s Flickr album.

Dedicated to students with special needs 

MaryJo Nagy is the 2023 Mercer County ESP of the Year. She a job coach and instructional assistant in Lawrence Township. Committed to all educators, Nagy focuses on empowering educational support professionals (ESPs). An association representative, she is an unofficial mentor to new ESPs in Lawrence making sure they know their rights under the law and the contract.

A diver in her life outside of school, Nagy had been the head coach of a competitive swim team for 17 years. After one season, she learned that her program helped to save the life of a young man who was privately in a mental health crisis. His family shared that her program was the light at the end of his tunnel.

Nagy is a dedicated volunteer at the Special Olympics in the summer and did personal training with women who had been abused through a program called Beyond the Wall at the Trenton YMCA. She also helped to organize a program called Cinderella’s Closet at her school, collecting donations of prom dresses, wraps, jewelry and shoes that helped to outfit several young women for the prom from head to toe. 

Wayne Township educator Lauren Spiller (at microphone) and NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Petal Robertson hosted the NJEA Celebration of Women.

Championing women’s health and students’ futures

Spring Williams has been an educator for 21 years. She currently teaches high school biology and environmental science in Moorestown. 

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019, she completed her rounds of chemotherapy and radiation in 2020, right before the COVID pandemic. The treatment and care she received from friends and family during her own treatment led her to begin the organization Inspiring Life Together. 

The organization gives moms battling breast cancer all the services and support she received during her treatment—both to navigate the disease and to assist with day to day needs. These included free items to help with the symptoms causes by chemotherapy and radiation as well as school supplies and holiday gifts for their children. Williams also offers a recovery program for overall support and to reduce the risk of recurrence. 

Williams is an advocate for educational equality. She is 1 of 5 educators in her school district who support at-risk youth through a program called Moorestown Cultural Arts. It introduces the students to various careers and colleges, including Historically Black Colleges and University, so they are aware of the numerous opportunities available to them. 

Protecting at-risk youth

Aida Wahba has been an educator for 23 years. A high school Spanish teacher in Somerville, Wahba leads a program through her school called the Latino Institute. The program has increased the involvement of Spanish-speaking families by making them aware of the supports they have through the public school system. 

Wahba also runs a Spanish Club that welcomes all students and allows them to experience the cultures of the Spanish-speaking world. She also works with the Genesis Club, a faith-based club initiated by students, that visits the elderly, feeds the homeless and provides gift bags to those living with cancer. 

Outside of school, Wahba works with Forming Lives. Based in Bogata, Columbia, the organization works to protect at-risk populations from human trafficking. She’s working on bringing professional development and conferences to educators here at home to help them train their students to protect themselves.

Wahba also carries out that work though a group called Hands Full of Hope, with whom she travels each summer to the Dominican Republic. She often finds herself talking to younger girls. Many of them are child brides who married older men to escape poverty. Through conferences, she educates young girls about their options to prevent them from being used and manipulated by older men.