'You Always Feel Safe' With 1st-Year Barnegat Educator, Who Goes 'Above & Beyond'

BARNEGAT, NJ — When sophomore Barnegat High School student Laila settled into her English class the second day of school, she thought “this class is going to be awful.” There was nothing catastrophic, but the seats were assigned and her teacher, Briella Pulitano, spoke in a monotone voice that gave Laila a bad feeling.

Laila turned out to be completely wrong – Pulitano became her favorite teacher, and an essay she wrote about the first-year teacher won the Applebee’s “Above and ‘BEE’yond Teacher Essay Contest,” which honors educators throughout the state. Pulitano is one of just eight NJ winners, and the furthest south of the bunch. Last year, a Manahawkin teacher was one recipient of the award. Read more: ‘Never A Dull Moment In Her Class’: Manahawkin Teacher Goes Above & Beyond

“Who I thought was a child-hating, dull and unemotional teacher turned out to be an incredibly caring, lively, intelligent, sarcastic person whom I consider my favorite teacher,” Laila wrote in her award-winning essay. “I suppose my second day of school was really just part of her first day jitters because from then on out, Ms. Pulitano proved to be an amazing teacher that has consistently made me and many others actually excited to come to English class.”

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A lifelong Ocean County resident, Pulitano is a recent Stockton University grad. She said that while she is not from Barnegat, in her first year, she already has fallen in love with the school.

Laila said that Pulitano teaches interesting lessons and when she grades work, she gives the students constructive advice that helps them grow.

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“I enjoy collaborating with my colleagues and helping the next generation find their way,” Pulitano said. “My favorite aspect about English is helping all of my students express their voices.”

This is something Pulitano does well, according to Laila. The thing the teacher does best, she said, “is how protected every student feels in her classroom.”

“Ms. Pulitano is the type of teacher, the type of person, that you always feel safe being around and confiding in,” Laila said.

Pulitano offers students a safe space where they can be seen and heard. They are never treated like they are less than and she always prioritizes their mental health, Laila said. This, above all, marks the difference between her being a good teacher and a great teacher, according to Laila.

“She has helped me, and others, through times of emotional distress and I like to think of my nomination as an undying thanks to her for always being so thoughtful and welcoming,” Laila wrote.

Along with the honors of being named an exceptional teacher, the contest comes with a $500 check to improve classrooms and the opportunity to host an end-of-the-year bash at the local Doherty-owned Applebee’s restaurant. Pulitano said she would use the money to buy books and other needed supplies.

“It is evident that Applebee’s cares about education and making a difference in the students’ and teachers’ lives alike,” Pulitano said.

“We are thrilled to celebrate the remarkable educators recognized in our eighth annual ‘Above and ‘BEE’yond Teacher Essay Contest’ at our New Jersey Applebee’s locations,” said Kevin Coughlin, Director of Operations – New Jersey, Doherty. “Celebrating the unwavering dedication of our local teachers who nurture and inspire our youth is a profound privilege. It is incredibly rewarding to provide a platform for students to express the significant influence their teachers have had on their lives and to shine a light on the community champions who make a difference every day.”

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