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'Live with Kelly and Michael' top teacher Ann Marie Rooney lands playground for New Rochelle school

Ann Marie Rooney, a teacher at William B.

Ann Marie Rooney, a teacher at William B. Ward Elementary School in New Rochelle, appeared on "Live with Kelly and Michael" as one of five finalists for the popular TV show's Top Teacher award. (May 1, 2013) Photo Credit: "Live with Kelly and Michael"

New Rochelle teacher Ann Marie Rooney, who was celebrated Wednesday morning on "Live with Kelly and Michael" for helping special-needs students at William B. Ward Elementary School, netted not only a backyard makeover for home, but a new playground for the school.

A beaming Rooney, wearing a coral dress, was presented with the gifts and a golden apple by hosts Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan as one of five finalists for the show's annual Top Teacher award.

Ripa wiped tears from her eyes during a video about Rooney's work. In the video, father Tim Bavosa spoke of his 7-year-old son:

"Can you imagine what it's like as a father, to receive a call at work and be told your son can't be restrained and that it's a safety issue and other pupils and teachers are in danger. He was throwing chairs. He was throwing desks."

After moving to three different schools, the boy, Timothy Bavosa Jr., came under Rooney's care.

"Before Mrs. Rooney, Timothy couldn't read, couldn't write, couldn't even hold a pencil," his father said. "His own mother couldn't even touch him, couldn't bathe him."

Today, Timothy is a boy transformed.

"Now he's just come so far," Rooney said. "I couldn't be more proud. He's happy and loving."

One key to her success?

Timothy's father said when the stress level rises, Rooney, 47, remains serene.

"Mrs. Rooney doesn't get flustered," he said. "She calms them down because she's so calm herself."

The key, she said, is to focus on the inner child.

"These kids, I love them," Rooney said on the video. "I see through their behaviors right to the heart of them. That's my role."

After the video aired, Strahan, the strapping, ex-NFL defensive end, said, "We are literally wiping tears around here.

"We heard your playground could use a little pick-me-up," Rippa chimed in, telling Rooney that the show will donate a full-blown, state-of-the-art playground with slides, climbing apparatus and wood chips to the school.

Rooney herself will get "an amazing" new patio, replete with furniture.

On April 20, TV crews came to the school to film Rooney's approach to her special-needs kindergarten and first-grade students.

Bavosa wrote an impassioned letter to the show about how Rooney, who has been teaching more than 20 years, changed his son Timothy's life, leading to the nomination.

Rooney's recognition also has brought a lot of positive attention to the school, parents noted.

Bavosa said, he's "met more people in the past few weeks than I think I've met in my entire life in New Rochelle."

Ward Principal Franco Miele said, "It's a big day, a big day. Everybody's pretty pumped up."

Katherine Denning, a mother of three, added that Rooney is "indicative of the great teachers who are here."

Michelle Balachandran said Rooney's influence in the school extends even beyond the children in her class. Rooney checks in on Balachandran's first-grade son, Rowan, who applied for her class but didn't get in.

"You can tell she loves her job," Balachandran said. "That's what she was born to do."

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