by Maria Ann Roglieri –
The Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow District shines because of many teachers who are unsung heroes. Their above-and-beyond dedication to their students is apparent in many things they do. Jason Choi, chemistry teacher for 22 years and current Chair of the Science Department at Sleepy Hollow High School (SHHS), firmly believes and exemplifies this.
Choi enjoys teaching in the district as he feels the teachers are talented and think outside the box. He and his fellow teachers are passionate about what they do and try to make learning fun. For example, 14 years ago, he decided to create Family Science Night after a parent in the district asked for guidance regarding local museums to get her kids interested in science. Choi thought, “Why send her to the museums when we can do it right here, for all students?” When he asked teachers and administrators for help, many volunteered their time. The first Family Science Night was a huge success, and it became an annual event. The students and teachers have a blast, and Choi especially loves to see the excitement on the faces of the younger students as they learn about science.
For Choi, being a teacher is all about being part of the community. He gets to know as many SHHS students as he can personally—in chemistry class, in the hallways, on teams he coaches (Varsity Golf and JV Volleyball), and generally in Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow. He and his wife, Serena McGough-Choi (an English teacher at SHHS), live in Sleepy Hollow so they can more broadly connect with students. Both attend students’ games, concerts and plays. Relates Jack Starkey SHHS ’17, “He went to my games and talked to me at length about them. When you have a close relationship with your teacher, that’s huge. He’s phenomenal.”
Choi has a strong desire to see SHHS students succeed, both in the classroom and beyond. His teaching style is cutting edge and student-friendly. Assistant Principal Anthony Baxter related, “Mr. Choi is a true teacher. He continually re-examines his teaching practice through the years. He is a leader in the district as he empowers students to design their own outcomes.”
Among the students, Choi is known as a superb teacher who motivates, challenges, and makes learning fun. He reaches out to students of all abilities and meets them at their level, often tutoring them when needed. Benji Povman SHHS ’16 comments, “Choi makes it so people who are struggling have a chance, and people who are doing well are able to expand on their success. Plus, he advises us about our college plans– he suggested I become an actuary and now I’m majoring in statistics. He predicted it!” Jack Rjeili SHHS ’16 remembers how Choi let him do extra science experiments during lunch, and inspired him to major in chemical engineering. Diego Arias SHHS ’17 describes Choi as “an amazing person,” who “does so much outside of classes to help students. He helped me edit my college essay and graduation speech even though I reached out to him last minute.”
Choi feels a strong connection to students who are first generation. He came to America in third grade from Korea and became a citizen as a high school junior. As he wants the many students from other countries to feel that Sleepy Hollow is their home, he reaches out, checks in on, and encourages them.
He makes students feel comfortable in other ways too. Relates Povman, “He understands school is stressful and makes his class a positive experience. The last five minutes of class were devoted to fun games like Kokology (a Japanese game of self-discovery).” Whenever he gives a test, he tries to put anxious students at ease, telling them, “Come early during lunch and I’ll buy pizza for you.”
Choi is also committed to helping students beyond the classroom and beyond high school. He and his wife offer free SAT prep classes at night for all SHHS students. He has also helped students find summer jobs, often by connecting current students with former students. Relates Arias, “He not only prepares students for higher education, but creates a bond that lives on after school finishes.” Indeed, Choi keeps in touch with as many former students as he can, writing to them just before their first semester college finals, making visits at various colleges, and even going to former students’ weddings! Choi credits his wife for inspiring him with her strong work ethic and dedication to her students. He credits his children with inspiring him to be a good teacher, treating each student as if he/she were his own child.