Life in the Ville by Jimmy Del Ponte
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)
Somerville High School recently presented a production of The Wizard of Oz. It was a great show. When I was at the high school, it was the teachers who conducted the drama, music and other extracurricular activities that kept me from dropping out. Along with some guidance from some great…well…Guidance Counselors, the talent shows, musical revues and plays sealed the deal for me. I was a proud member of the class of 1971.
If I hadn’t taken the exciting classes taught by enthusiastic teachers, I wouldn’t have graduated from Somerville High. That would have made my four years at Emerson College impossible also. It was bad enough they tried to make me take geometry again after I had flunked it the year before…with the same teacher! Thankfully Mr. Julio Perno, who was my guidance counselor, designed a special course (the Jimmy course!), heavy on music, just for me. Thanks to him I stuck it out through high school and went on to get a BFA in Musical Theatre and Directing. Certain teachers reached out and left a permanent positive mark on us.
I asked some former Somerville High School students which teachers made the most impact on them. I will try to leave out the accounts of the few teachers who terrorized us. This is far from a complete list as there were tons of awesome teachers along the way. This is just the shortlist. Mine starts with music teachers Mrs. Mary Carafotes, and Mr. Andy Smith. These two teachers influenced me immensely.
Here come the quotes from former students. I hope we spelled the teacher’s names correctly or we will be after school clapping erasers.
“Mrs. Carafotes and Mr. Ruplenas (music) made my senior year the best year of my life!” “Mr. Tarello, the Chemistry teacher…the best class ever.” “Dr. Buckley was the best teacher I had at the high school.” “Mr. Tom O’Brien taught me how to type 95 wpm and I made a lot of money with that.” “Mr. Sweet helped me overcome my math anxiety. Had I had him several years earlier, I might have actually amounted to something.” “Mr. Gordinier and Mr. Pignatello rocked! They were very hip (and young) and we could really relate to them.” Mr. Digoli once told a student, “Stephen, there is nothing sadder in this world than a dumb jock. For (crying out loud), use your brain. You are smart, don’t waste it.” I never forgot that. “Thanks Mr. Brenner…If it weren’t for him, I’d be walking everywhere!” (I take it he was a driving instructor.) “The best guidance counselor ever was Mr. John Gartland.” “Mrs. O’Brien the Building Master…loved keeping me after school!” “Ms. Danis (McMicheal). She was one of the art teachers at SHS. She recommended me to Mass Art for Saturday classes and encouraged me to make a career in the Arts. I owe my career to her.” “Coach Nunziato was soooooooooo cool.” “Mr. Moriarty was my English and creative writing teacher. Years after I graduated I found essays I had written. The feedback he gave when grading them was in a respectful, adult tone. Made me realize why I liked his class so much. He treated us like young adults.” “Mrs. Brinley for geometry also comes to mind. Very tough and demanding but she knew how to teach. I ran into her 25 years later and thanked her for giving me the confidence to pursue a career in IT field. She taught me how to problem solve and be analytical. Only time I ever got an A in math!” “Marian (Paglinca) Joyce got me my first job.” “SHS Class of ‘70 nothing like it!” “Dr. Burns was tough as nails but a great history teacher.”
Here is a list of some more memorable teachers that my former classmates from 1970’s Somerville High School mentioned: Mr.Quinlan, Mr. Sweet, Mr. Bennett, Mr. Anderson, Mr. Dywer, Mr. Stauffer, Mr. Corrigan, Mr. Murray, Ms. Marotta, Mr. and Mrs. Hrubi, Mr. Walzak, Mr. Heinz, Mr. Bonsignori, Mr. McKusker, Mr. Da Prato, Mr. Lonergan, Mrs. Murphy, Miss Neville, Mr. Kerouac, Mrs.Watson, Mrs. Gretchen Kelly, Mr.Campagna, Mr.DeAngelis, (my 10th grade homeroom teacher) Mr. Fasciano and Mr. Fedele.
I would like to end this article by mentioning a gentleman who graduated from Somerville High School’s class of 1973. His name is Anthony (Tony) Ciccariello. He is a former Somerville teacher and was the principal of Somerville High School up until last year. Since retiring, Tony is currently the Administrator for Leadership, Program & Planning, still helping the students of Somerville. Tony is a Somerville High School success story. Local boy makes good. I bet Tony has his own list of favorite Somerville High School teachers who influenced him. I also know that there are many, many students that Mr. Ciccariello has helped during his long career as a teacher and administrator. That is another story for another time.