Denise A. Cicione was the type of teacher who would take her students in Nesconset to a nearby park to examine birds and area trees in addition to teaching about such lessons from a book.
She was inspired by the natural world around her, those who knew her said, and brought that love of nature to the students and staff at Great Hollow Middle School, where she was a seventh grade science teacher. Cicione, of Nesconset, died March 30 of a brain aneurysm at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. She was 53.
“Anybody that knew her was touched by her. She was unlike anybody else,” said her sister, Teresa Noto, of Nesconset.
Born in Brooklyn, Cicione moved with her family to Oceanside and graduated from Oceanside High School. She studied to become a teacher and received her bachelor’s degree in 2007 and her master’s in 2009, both from Dowling College.
She worked in the Smithtown school district since 1998, starting as a computer lab assistant. Over the course of her career there, she served as computer lab assistant at Great Hollow, a science teacher assistant at Smithtown High School West and returned to Great Hollow as a science teacher in 2007. In 2012, Cicione became an instructional specialist at the school, officials there said.
She married Neil Cicione in the early 1990s, her sister said. The couple has a son, Joseph, of Nesconset.
Noto recalled that Cicione conducted a classroom project involving bobwhite quails, which are known to eat ticks. She bought quail eggs and using an egg-hatching machine, she raised the quails who were then released nearby.
“She was always looking for ways to make the world a better place,” Noto said.
Her colleagues at Great Hollow described Cicione as an inspiration to both students and staff. She had attended workshops at the Manhasset-based Greentree Foundation where she learned more ways to bring nature directly to students.
Cicione led an effort to take the entire seventh grade class — about 300 students — and educators to Charles P. Toner Park for a full-day curriculum spent entirely outdoors. Cicione and assistant principal Cindy Nocero also transformed an empty interior courtyard at the school into an open learning space.
“She was a standout teacher and a leader,” Nocero said.
English teacher Nanci Hennes had worked with Cicione for 20 years in the district. Both educators started out in the computer lab.
“She would spend hours after school helping anyone who needed help and always with a smile on her face,” Hennes said.
In addition to her husband, son and sister, Cicone is survived by another sister, Grace Zazzaro, of Mystic, Connecticut, and her mother, Lillian Vissichelli, of West Palm Beach, Florida.
A wake was held April 4 at St. James Funeral Home and a funeral Mass was celebrated April 5 at Parish of the Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church in Nesconset. Burial followed at St. Patricks Cemetery in Smithtown.
Contributions in her memory may be made to the Denise Cicione Scholarship Fund, Smithtown Children Foundation, P.O Box 799, Nesconset, N.Y. 11767.