SOMSD teachers receive fellowships from Achieve for professional development

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MAPLEWOOD / SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — For Amy Popp, a media specialist at Tuscan Elementary School, receiving a fellowship from the Achieve Foundation in March has special significance. She is one of five educators who were awarded Michelle T. Riecke Fellowships totaling $5,073 to pursue professional development programs this summer. 

Popp will attend the week-long American Library Association annual conference in Washington, D.C., in late June. She is a second-generation South Orange–Maplewood School District educator, preceded by her mother, Bernice Popp, a beloved classroom teacher who taught the children of Michelle “Shelley” Traina Riecke, for whom the fellowship is named. 

“My mother deeply admired Shelley’s commitment to education and learning,” Amy Popp said. “With the funds from this fellowship, I hope to honor Shelley by deepening my commitment to education and sharing the most current research, ideas and resources with my SOMSD colleagues and the students at Tuscan School.” 

Riecke Fellows dedicate some portion of their summer break to professional development. The other 2022 Riecke Fellows are Caitlin Dennehy, a special education teacher at South Orange Middle School, who will study mindfulness and education at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY; Columbia High School guidance counselor Karissa Handler, who will seek advanced skills in assisting students with the college application process at Columbia University’s Teachers College; CHS biology teacher Matthew Rice, who will prepare to train other teachers at CHS to support trans and nonbinary students in a virtual course offered by the Transgender Training Institute; and Seth Boyden math intervention specialist Elana Ris, who will seek further proficiency in diagnosing and advancing student understanding and numeracy development through a virtual course in Add+VantageMR from Math Recovery. 

Including this year’s awards, the Riecke Fellowship has provided $92,778 to 73 educators from all 10 SOMSD schools since it was established in memory of Riecke, a former Board of Education president, in 2004. Riecke’s two daughters now participate on its application review committee, which is led by Chairperson Anne Wessel. The purpose of the program is to support outstanding teaching by enabling educators to undertake continuing education in their fields in the summer and inspiring them to share the new knowledge they acquire with their district colleagues subsequently. To learn more, visit

Photos Courtesy of Eileen Neri