By KATIE MOEN
For The Westfield Leader
WESTFIELD — A well-loved fifth-grade teacher known for encouraging his students to find their best selves through education and exploration has been chosen as the 2022 recipient of the Westfield Rotary Philhower award, presented each year to an elementary-school teacher who goes above and beyond for their students.
Matthew Cognetti, a Washington elementary-school teacher and Westfield graduate, was presented with his award during Tuesday night’s meeting of the Westfield Board of Education.
Mr. Cognetti was accompanied on Tuesday night by dozens of friends, family members, peers and students, who all gathered to celebrate his success.
“Matt received a number of nominations from parents, students and colleagues,” Washington Elementary Principal Andrew Perry, Ed.D., said, noting that Mr. Cognetti is known around the district for leading overnight trips, mentoring new teachers, volunteering for various school events and creating engaging projects for his students.
One letter that particularly stood out, Dr. Perry said, was written by one of Mr. Cognetti’s current students.
“I feel like I ask too many questions that might have annoyed other teachers or made them get frustrated, but with Mr. Cognetti, I feel like he will help in any way that he can to help me understand it more,” Dr. Perry said, reading from the letter. “In my book, you can’t get a bigger compliment than that.”
According to information provided by the district, The Philhower Fellowship was established in 1993 by the Rotary Club to honor former Westfield Rotarian Charles Philhower and to recognize the importance of teaching in the elementary grades. An educator for more than 50 years, Mr. Philhower, who died in 1962, was supervising principal (superintendent) of Westfield schools for three decades as well as co-founder and past president of the Rotary Club of Westfield.
Mr. Cognetti attended Tamaques Elementary School, Edison Intermediate School, and graduated from Westfield High School. He attended Penn State University and Kean University for his undergraduate degree in elementary education and the University of Scranton, where he received a Master’s in Educational Administration.
He has been teaching at Washington Elementary since 2001.
“One of my students recently told me that when she was younger, she wanted to have 26 kids,” Mr. Cognetti said Tuesday, laughing. “Even from a family as large as mine, that’s a lot. I told her that I really didn’t think it was practical, but gave her an even better idea: simply become a teacher. That way, you can have hundreds of kids that you can watch grow and flourish, fall and find ways to pick themselves back up. It is so incredibly rewarding. When I was growing up, I was told that if I found something I loved, I would never work a day in my life. It wasn’t until I became a teacher that I found the truth in that statement.”
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