A Hewlett High School social studies teacher was named one of a dozen educators who will be honored by the Harvard Club of Long Island as Distinguished Teachers of 2018.
Dr. David Rifkind, who was nominated for the recognition by a former student, has taught in the Hewlett-Woodmere School District for 26 years. He is also an adviser for the Youth Leadership Forum, the History Bowl and Bee and the Hewlett-Woodmere Community Learning and Teaching Garden.
“This award honors teachers who transform lives,” said Dr. Judith Esterquest, the Harvard Club’s chair of the Distinguished Teacher Selection Committee. “Devoted teachers like Dr. Rifkind offer Long Island students deep expertise, extraordinary talents and countless hours of attention.”
One of the lives Rifkind helped transform is Harvard freshman and 2017 Hewlett High graduate Alec Fischthal, who took part in all three of those extracurricular activities, and nominated Rifkind for the award. “Dr. Rifkind is more than just a history teacher — he leads by example,” Fischthal said. “Teaching his students how to extend a helping hand to others, seeing potential in those who might otherwise be overlooked.”
Though he is reluctant to take the credit, all three programs Rifkind has advised have seen their share of success. The History Bowl team won the national junior varsity championship in Washington, D.C., in 2015. The community garden has flourished, with its vegetables and herbs donated to local charities and trees that have been planted at Grant Park in Hewlett.
Rifkind received the Distinguished Freedom Award from the Long Island chapter of the NAACP in February. The accolade is given to people considered “game changers,” and he was chosen for his work with the Youth Leadership Forum and his inclusive teaching methods.
“He spent countless hours coaching and mentoring the newly formed History Bowl team . . . Every weekend from April to October, you can find him in the garden volunteering side by side with his students,” Fischthal said, adding that Rifkind’s work with the Youth Leadership Forum “brings our Hewlett-Woodmere community closer together.”
Rifkind said that he greatly appreciated being nominated for the award. “Its humbling,” he said. “I guess [Alec] appreciated the fact that I helped [with the activities]. I’m very honored, because he had a lot of really good teachers here.”
Daniel Foster, a Hewlett High senior, is also involved in all three groups that Rifkind advises. He is a co-president of the history team and the Youth Leadership Forum and a student officer for the garden. Foster met Rifkind when he visited the garden in the summer before his freshman year.
“I went to the garden looking for a new activity to join, and I was pleasantly surprised by the spirit of collaboration and camaraderie that was there,” Foster said. “What makes Dr. Rifkind a phenomenal teacher and an outstanding supervisor is his ability to consider diverse perspectives and put the concerns of others above his own. Whether he’s in the classroom, sharing his passion for history, or at a club meeting, guiding group discussions, Dr. Rifkind constantly listens to student voices and acts on our behalf.”
Foster said he thinks it’s great that Rifkind is being acknowledged, calling him “a pillar of the Hewlett-Woodmere community.” Dr. Ralph Marino, superintendent of the Hewlett-Woodmere School District, expressed similar sentiments, specifically highlighting Rifkind’s role with the leadership forum. “His work with the [forum] has had a significant impact on countless students throughout the years,” Marino said. “He’s been instrumental in guiding decisions that benefit the entire community.”
Because he does so much outside the classroom, it’s easy to forget that Rifkind teaches courses. “A large reason why I’m passionate about history and social science today is because of the time I spent in Dr. Rifkind’s history classes,” said Foster, who hosts “Did You Know?” a monthly radio show on Irie Jam 93.5 FM, focusing on current events in and the history, of West Indian and African countries and communities. “He inspired me to look at history from beyond the curriculum by learning more about under-represented perspectives and drawing connections between what we learned in class and current events.”
Rifkind is the third teacher from Hewlett-Woodmere to win the Distinguished Teacher award. Steven Capuano, a physics teacher, won in 2012, and Ric Stark, a science teacher, won in 2006. Rifkind will be honored at the Harvard Club of Long Island’s annual University Relations Luncheon at the Heritage Club at Bethpage on April 15.