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My turn: Teachers who were role models

1990: Teacher Peggy Del Bene, left, with student

1990: Teacher Peggy Del Bene, left, with student Deanna Ciabattari. 2011: Ciabattari, left, learned life principles from Del Bene, right.

She 'made me feel special'

Every day in Mrs. Del Bene's global studies class was a Newsday current events day. Of course, I remember the classroom lessons on the teachings of Mohandas Gandhi and the caste system in India, but often it is the teachings outside the classroom that make the most impact on a person's life.

As an adolescent with major self-esteem issues, attending Brentwood East Junior High School in 1990 was not a walk in the park. After years of being bullied and ridiculed, I felt like somewhat of an "untouchable" myself.

Everyone has their own version of a hero. Sometimes, they wear a red cape with a big "S" on their chests, and sometimes they come armed with nothing more than a kind word and a smile.

When I began working in the school's front office, before I was ever her pupil, Mrs. Del Bene would come in and simply say, "Hello, how are you?" Nothing earth shattering, but to a young adult it made me feel special that someone in her position would bother to make conversation. Even more marvelous was the fact that she acted the same way with everyone she spoke with -- be it the principal or the maintenance worker.

I have always found that to be a wonderful way to conduct one's self. I have tried to incorporate this into my everyday life while working in the Family Faith Formation office of my parish. A smile, a kind word, the sharing of one's time and making someone feel special -- valuable lessons that are not taught along with the three R's.

In 2002, upon hearing of her retirement, I wrote and thanked her for making a difference in my life. To my great surprise, she called to thank me, and we have kept in touch ever since. We correspond regularly via email and get together for a yearly reunion. We spend the afternoon catching up over stories and a meal, and we always make sure to have our "Kodak moment" before my departure.

It isn't often that one gets to befriend their hero or mentor. The hero aspect has not diminished -- it has just been put aside, and what remains is a wonderful friendship that I have grown to cherish. Now, Mrs. Del Bene is simply "Peggy," and I am thoroughly enjoying getting to know her for the individual she is.

Deanna Ciabattari, Brentwood


She was patient with everyone

In 1977, my family moved from a house in East Patchogue to one in North Patchogue. The move meant a switch to Canaan Elementary school.

I was a shy, introverted child in the midst of family crises and was scared of the changes happening around me. I adjusted quickly to my new school, in no small part due to my teacher, Sue Chiuchiolo. Decades later, I still think fondly of her kindness and dedication. School soon became a haven for me, and I idolized her. She was unfailingly patient. Looking back, I know I must have tried her patience daily.

I was lucky enough to be placed in her class again in fourth grade. By that time, I'd known for years that I wanted to be a teacher -- and that if I became one, I wanted to be just like her. There seemed to be a level of mutual respect that I wasn't used to getting from an adult. She spoke to us in a way that showed we mattered. As a result, I believe we all stood a little straighter and worked just a bit harder.

As I grew up, I didn't visit Canaan, though I thought often of Mrs. Chiuchiolo and wondered what she was doing. I still dreamed of being a teacher, but that dream evaded me until I was able to return to school at the age of 27. In one of my first education classes, our professor asked us to share any memories we had of a special teacher. Of course, I spoke of Sue and how she probably had no idea how much of an impact she'd had on me -- both academically and emotionally during those very difficult years.

My professor reminded me that it wasn't too late to let her know; so I wrote to her. I was thrilled to get a response -- and her graciousness and gratitude made me happy I'd taken the time to thank her. I finally made it back for a visit to Canaan and to my old fourth-grade classroom.... It was an amazing feeling!

A few years later, while I was teaching in Brooklyn, Sue came to visit. It was an unforgettable experience for me. My class adored her, making it clear that even after retirement, she had not lost her way with children. We presented her with a collector's edition of "Charlotte's Web," which she'd read to my class in second grade, and I read each year to my students. I can still remember her expressions as she read aloud to us, bringing alive the characters and our imaginations.

My contact with Sue after that was limited to holiday cards and emails, but she remains my favorite teacher -- the one who inspired me in my endeavors and who believed in me. And while my words are sincere, I hope it is my actions as an educator and how I treat children that will make her proud.

Thank you, Sue.

Kimberly Endo, Freeport

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