June 4, 2009
By Tim Simard
For Allen Brook School kindergarten teacher Diane DiGennaro, retiring at the end of the school year isn’t so much the completion of a long career, but more the start of something new.
Observer photo by Tim Simard
Kindergarten teacher Diane DiGennaro, who will retire at the end of the school year, shows off the garden at Allen Brook School. DiGennaro helped establish the school’s garden program.
DiGennaro, along with seven other Allen Brook teachers and staff members, will finish her 30-year Vermont teaching career at the end of next week. She’s spent 21 of those years teaching in Williston and 14 years teaching kindergarten.
“I don’t really consider this a retirement, I consider this only a retirement from teaching,” DiGennaro said.
DiGennaro said the timing was right to retire after her husband, former Williston Town Planner David Spitz, accepted a job as a planner in Harwich, Mass. The move will allow the couple, which grew up near the New Jersey shore, to return to their seacoast roots. Harwich is located on Cape Cod.
“But we both love Vermont,” DiGennaro said. “It’ll be big change.”
Besides being a popular teacher at Allen Brook, DiGennaro helped found the school’s garden program, where students help grow and harvest fruits and vegetables for the food service program.
It’s DiGennaro’s dedication to the classroom and school garden that will be sorely missed, said Allen Brook Principal John Terko. He said DiGennaro was able to “nurture” her students through their early learning, something teachers and staff respect a great deal.
“She’s the type of person who has the perfect temperament for teaching kindergarten,” Terko said.
DiGennaro began her teaching career in the small southern Vermont town of Shaftsbury after graduating from the University of Vermont in 1978 with a degree in education. She also has a master’s degree in education from St. Michael’s College.
She taught in Winooski for several years before taking a job as a third and fourth grade teacher at Williston Central School in 1988.
Williston proved to be a perfect fit for DiGennaro. The school adopted her “Reading Restaurant” program soon after she arrived. The Reading Restaurant allows students to create a mock restaurant and serve family members stories they’ve written throughout the year.
“I had already felt I had come home when I came here to Williston,” she said. “I’ve never worked with such dedicated professionals.”
After taking a year off to write, DiGennaro returned to Williston as a kindergarten teacher. She was inspired to make the change after visiting her son’s classroom and seeing how much fun students and teachers had every day.
For DiGennaro, teaching kindergarten students is a chance to be a positive influence at the beginning of their learning.
“You have more time to build a strong community of learners,” she said. “Because this is a smaller, more self-contained environment, it creates an intimate setting that I love.”
Up until this school year, DiGennaro taught two half-day sessions per day in the kindergarten program. The move to full-day kindergarten was a challenge in the beginning, but well worth it. She watched her students make “enormous” gains in math and literacy.
“It was long overdue here,” she said.
DiGennaro, who is a Master Gardener, has also been the main force behind Allen Brook’s garden. She said the idea came to her five years ago because she was concerned over what students were eating in the cafeteria. What better way to find healthier eating options for students than by growing vegetables, she thought.
“The only way to make inroads into what the students were eating was to start a garden,” DiGennaro said.
With the help of teachers, students and community members, Allen Brook’s garden was a success and continues to thrive to this day. DiGennaro is convinced it will continue to be successful since teachers and students are so vested in it.
Once DiGennaro and her husband move to Cape Cod, she hopes to continue with her skills as a horticulturist and a writer. She plans to freelance write, as well as write a series of children’s books and a novel.
“I really wanted to go out at the top of my game and I think I am,” DiGennaro said.
Retirement party for Allen Brook teachers and staff
Allen Brook School will host a community gathering on Tuesday for teachers and staff members retiring at the end of the school year. The event will take place from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Allen Brook Principal John Terko said the event will serve as a time for current and former students and community members to thank the teachers for their work. Refreshments will be served.
Allen Brook will lose seven teachers and staff members at the end of the year. The soon-to-be retirees include the following: kindergarten teacher Diane DiGennaro; Esprit House teachers Jeanne Desilets and Nancy Leonard; Esprit teaching assistant Bev Klandl; Calliope House teacher Jane Wilson and her husband, district technology educator Charlie Wilson; and speech and language pathologist Jennifer Higgins.
— Tim Simard, Observer staff