What are three things you want people to know about you?
I’m a New Yorker. No matter how much I love Vermont and the many other amazing places I’ve visited and lived throughout the years, New York City will always be my home. It’s where I was born and raised, surrounded by a Polish-speaking grandmother, Irish red-haired Nana, loving parents and a younger sister. My father worked at the Empire State Building and I had my piano recital at age 12 at Carnegie Hall!
I’m a mother. I love, love, love being a mom to the most incredible young woman on the planet. It’s amazing to watch and learn as another person develops their unique personality, navigates the complexities of life, learning and adapting throughout the years, becoming an exceptional woman. I’m so proud of her.
I am Spanish in my heart! At age 16, I had the life changing opportunity to spend three months in Granada, Spain, with my best friend and her family. What an eye-opening experience: different foods, smells, customs, language, music, art and dance. Absolutely no one I met spoke English. It was “the trip of a lifetime” that turned out to be the first of many more to come.
Is there a PERSON or an EXPERIENCE that inspired you to work in EDUCATION? If yes, how did the person or experience inspire you?
I attended St. Bartholomew in Elmhurst, Queens for 10 years, under the tutelage of Dominican nuns and they influenced me in many ways and sparked the desire in me to teach others. They also always reminded us to take care of people less fortunate and those who couldn’t take care of themselves. They planted the seeds of social justice in my head.
As I was attending classes at City University of New York, two events happened that put me on the path that I’m still on today. I visited The Richmond Occupational Training Center as part of a class and watched a teacher, Jeff Cognato, interact with his 16-21 year old developmentally disables students. Back in the 1970s, people were put in either mental institutions or special schools if they had a below average IQ or were considered developmentally or intellectually disabled. He treated each student with dignity and respect. I ended up doing my student teaching there and soon realized that many of the students were there because they never learned how to read. They never learned the sound-symbol relationship of letters, due to a learning disability. They didn’t learn in the traditional school setting, so they were labeled and put in a special school.
At the same time, Geraldo Rivero, did his expose on the Willowbrook State School in Staten Island, where he discovered mentally and physically disabled patients living in deplorable conditions. I ended up getting a job as a travel trainer and taught these newly released members of society how to use public transportation from their new homes to a job in Manhattan. This was challenging, since many had to take a bus to the ferry, the ferry, and then a subway. They were hired as messengers, which meant they had to deliver time-sensitive documents to various places throughout Manhattan.
These events were incredibly eye-opening to me. I had never thought that some folks might learn differently, or not be able to learn at all, not to mention that segments of our society were overlooked and discarded. I decided to get my second teachers license in special education to complement the one in early essential education. This enabled me to get a job at that very same school, teaching reading to students who were deemed unteachable.
What is something VALUABLE you learned from one of our students?
VAL has a student who never gave up on his dream of getting a high school diploma from Burlington High School. That was the town that he lived in when he was a little boy and even though he moved away, he decided in his 50s to come to Vermont Adult learning and realize his dream. It wasn’t easy, but he persisted, even though life got in the way due to work and family commitments. He did it – one class and tutoring session at a time – until he made it. Perseverance is the key and he made it look easy. He’s now pursuing his second dream and career– to become a boat captain and he just got a job on the Lake Champlain Ferry to do just that. What an inspiration!
How have you been IMPACTED by this work?
When I look back at my 33 years at Vermont Adult Learning, I realize that this was the absolute perfect job for me. I was trained to be a teacher, but was hired as an Office Manager and Volunteer Coordinator, which enabled me to support students as they made their journey through Vermont Adult Learning in myriad ways. Every day I’m reminded of our students’ contributions to society—so many of them are essential workers. I’m continually inspired and impressed by not only the students but the amazing teachers, staff and volunteers that are part of this fabulous organization.
Why does this work MATTER?
Not everyone learns the same way and traditional public high school isn’t for everyone. Many students feel lost and abandoned when they decide to come to Vermont Adult Learning. I feel that VAL is often the key to opening the door to a world of possibilities for them. Education is so important to succeed in life and gives our students the confidence to pursue their dreams. When we are able to help by lighting the spark that’s inside of them, it’s amazing to watch.
Is there anything else you wish to share?
I’m looking forward to the next chapter in my life. I don’t know what lies ahead.
Sometimes things don’t work out as planned or expected, but because of that, you end up on a different path that, in the end, works out much better and is a great memory or story. There’s a lot to be learned from losses. My philosophy is expect the best outcome, but be ready for the worst. Don’t succumb to fear or rely on luck, although a little of each, sometimes comes in handy.
“I have long said that the Chittenden office could not function without Maureen. She knows where everything is in the office and she can find it for you with a bright cheery smile on her face,” said Anne, a VAL teacher. “I have never seen her grumpy, no matter how many times I ask for class volunteers, tutors, picture dictionaries, letterhead, etc. I am awed by her endless patience and ever grateful for all her guidance! THANK YOU Maureen!”
“Maureen is not only the glue that holds the Chittenden Office together,” said Meredith, a VAL administrator. “She’s also a great friend whose value can never be overestimated.”
Thank you, Maureen, for your 33 years of service to VAL! You have impacted students, volunteers and colleagues in so many positive ways. We wish you well as you prepare for your next adventure!