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Great Neck teacher named Firemen's Association "Teacher of the Year"

Paul Ziring, special education outdoor education coordinator for

Paul Ziring, special education outdoor education coordinator for the Great Neck School District, seen here on Wednesday June 10, 2015 in Great Neck, is the recipient of the Firemen's Association of the State of New York's 2015 Teacher of the Year award for his ongoing efforts to educate students about fire safety. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

When Paul Ziring arrives in a bus, Great Neck Public Schools' special education students know they're going on a field trip.

More often than not, Ziring, who is the district's special education outdoor education coordinator, takes them to the Nassau County Firefighters Museum and Education Center for a unique fire safety program, one he helped build.

Thursday, the Firemen's Association of the State of New York will honor Ziring and his work with its "Teacher of the Year" award at a ceremony at the Garden City museum.

"He's been doing special education for a long time, and he's a dedicated guy and someone we really, really thought was deserving of the award," said Bob Sutton, chairman of the FASNY Fire Prevention and Life Safety Committee, which selected the winner from a group of nominees from across the state.

Ziring, 51, of Mineola, began his career as a health educator 25 years ago but moved into special education outdoor education while exploring other career options within teaching. His interest spread from there into fire education after taking student groups to the Firefighters Museum, which offers hands-on exhibits and programs that Ziring admired.

At the museum's request, and with a little collaboration with school officials, Ziring helped tailor the museum's fire safety program to the unique emotional and academic needs of special education students.

"Students with disabilities are especially vulnerable to getting hurt in a home fire," Ziring said. The program "is great for all students, but we needed to modify it for students with special needs."

The special-needs program emphasizes hands-on learning, taking advantage of the museum's visual demonstrations and diagrams as well as student-produced posters to teach awareness about fire hazards and survival skills in the home.

The program is shorter and simplified to make sure every student can understand the message -- that anyone can stay safe and prevent fires, Ziring said.

Sutton said the FASNY committee considers innovation and dedication when choosing the recipient for the award, which has been offered for a decade. Unlike most candidates, Ziring was nominated by the museum, rather than the school district, Sutton said, and he previously was given the museum's Badge of Courage Humanitarian award.

"It's a wonderful thing that he has done and that he's being recognized by the state is great," said Alana Petrocelli, the museum's director.

Ziring, who has worked in Great Neck schools for the past 23 years, put the spotlight on the museum and district special education staffs.

"I didn't reinvent the wheel by any means. I took what they had and modified it," he said. "That's why I'm shocked, flattered and honored. It was a group effort."


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