VINELAND – Sometimes, appreciation comes as a surprise.

That happened when Juliana Frankenfield opened a letter that was in her mailbox at Vineland High School shortly before the Christmas holiday break.

Frankenfield, who teaches American Sign Language as part of the school’s world languages program, found she was named a Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction by National Society of High School Scholars. The organization was founded by Claes Nobel, a nephew of Alfred Nobel, who established the famous peace prizes.

But what surprised — and thrilled — Frankenfield most was who nominated her for the award: Emily Shellhamer, one of Frankenfield’s former students and now a Vineland High School junior.

“That definitely made the award more special, to know that you’re affecting students’ lives and doing your job, but in a way that you want to do it,” Frankenfield said.

Shellhamer, 17, said she is not surprised that Frankenfield won the honor.

“She’s extremely qualified in the subject and a really warm-hearted person,” Shellhamer said. “She also provides the academic and emotional aspect that a teacher should have. If you need her, she’s always there.”

Frankenfield, a local resident, formerly was an elementary school teacher in Bridgeton. She started teaching American sign language at the high school here in 2005.

“I learned a little bit of sign language in high school and (after graduating from Toccoa Falls College in Georgia) I wanted to learn a second language, so I took some classes,” Frankenfield said. “When I went for my graduate work, I decided to go to Gallaudet University, which is the university for the deaf in Washington, D.C. I got my Masters Degree there in linguistics.”

She said the high school’s American sign language program was under way when she moved back to the South Jersey area.

“I’m looking forward to continuing to learn more about different techniques I can use in the classroom to help students acquire the language better,” Frankenfield said. “I’m looking forward to hopefully sharing those ideas with other teachers and my colleagues.”

JoAnne Negrin, the school district’s world languages supervisor, said the district is honored to have Frankenfield on the faculty roll.

“Her dedication and hard work are evident in her classroom, and it is wonderful to see her excellence recognized by a national organization and by her former student in this way,” she said.

Vineland High School South Principal Thomas McCann said, “We’re proud of what Juliana has done with the sign language in our school and what she’s done for our students.”

According to the National Society of High School Scholars, the organization was founded in 2002 to “recognized academic excellence and to encourage members to apply their unique talents, vision and potential for the betterment of themselves and the world.”

The organization has inducted more than 700,000 members from 160 countries, according to the website, and has awarded more than $1.1 million in scholarships.

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