NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A New York City teacher got a big surprise in class Tuesday, as she was named among the best of the best in the city.

CBS2’s Aundrea Cline-Thomas went to Central Park East High School to see how Ms. Ramos is making a difference.

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The shock was written all over English teacher Ivelisse Ramos’ face – even through her mask – when she learned she was a Big Apple award winner. She was one of 20 winners, out of more than 6,000 who were nominated.

She was presented a Big Apple award by Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter. The award honors the best teachers in the city, during a year that presented unimaginable challenges.

“It’s like being a first year teacher all over again, so it’s been quite a roller coaster. I’m certain other teachers feel similarly,” Ms. Ramos said.

But she’s no novice. She’s a 13-year veteran, whose experience helped Central Park East High School pivot during the shutdown.

For years, Ms. Ramos conducted research on digital literacy, so when the pandemic hit she led the school-wide effort to transition to remote learning immediately, guiding teachers and students along the way.

“The teachers that we’re recognizing this year, besides just being amazing teachers, have been critical in that transition to remote learning,” Porter said.

When the pandemic forced distancing, Ms. Ramos found a way to stay close.

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“The first thing she said was that we’re a community, we have to trust each other. Right away I felt really comfortable around her, and I felt like she was an adult I could talk to about stuff outside of school,” said 11th grade student Reana Akthar.

Through a computer screen, or in person.

“I think she does a really good job making kids feel seen. It’s like that relationship where it’s like, ‘I see you, I hear you, like, I’m with you,'” said 11th grader Anahi Ramos.

For Ms. Ramos, the feeling is mutual.

“When I went online and I saw them and heard them, that helped me get through the day. So many days,” Ms. Ramos said.

Described as a bright light, even in dark days.

“Teach for action, teach for resistance, teach for liberation,” Ms. Ramos said.

Teaching with a passion that sets her apart.

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The 20 Big Apple Award winners will join the chancellor’s teacher advisory council. They were chosen from thousands of applications submitted by fellow educators and the community.

Aundrea Cline-Thomas