By Jennika Baines
Sun Associate Editor
Editor’s note: This story is the first in a series which will consider outstanding teachers and staff members of Catholic schools in the diocese. The series will appear throughout the school year.
Several weeks ago, The Catholic Sun sent an e-mail to Catholic schools asking for the names of teachers or school staff who have served in their positions for so long and so well that they have become a familiar and beloved feature of the school.
One of the first phone calls came from Sue Migon, a teacher at the Bishop’s Academy at St. Charles Borromeo in Syracuse. “I just wanted to let you know about a teacher called Dru Pellizzari,” she said.
The next day, a call came from Dru Pellizzari.
“I’d like to suggest a teacher for the article,” she said. “Her name is Sue Migon.”
Though they teach across the hall from one another and have become good friends, neither knew that the other was putting her name forward for this article. But they have noticed the dedication that the other has to her students and to the school. A few days before the start of yet another school year, they sat down to discuss their combined 60 years of teaching in Catholic schools.
Pellizzari is a third-grade homeroom teacher and an English teacher for grades three through six. She has been a teacher in the Syracuse Diocese since 1978, though she did take a couple of years off to focus on liturgy and music.
Migon is a fifth-grade homeroom teacher and a science teacher for grades three through six. She has taught in the diocese for the past 35 years.
Both said they still get excited and even a little nervous before the start of the new year.
“Every year is new because of having new students,” Pellizzari said.
Even with the influx of fresh faces each year, Migon said she likes the fact that she’s able to follow the children through three grades. She’s able to connect with them and watch them grow. And she said she especially likes it when students take the time to come back even after many years.
“The fact that so many of our former students make a point to come back and say something to us really means a lot,” Migon said, adding that she’s always surprised how vivid their memories of moments in the classroom remain. “They’ll say, ‘Do you still do this? Do you still do that?’ It’s crazy what they remember!”
Pellizzari said teaching in a Catholic school offers her the chance to strengthen her connection to her students by sharing her faith with them. “It’s an opportunity to share our spirituality with young kids who I honestly feel are looking for that. And throughout the whole year if you can just have that one moment where you can touch them, then it’s all worth it,” Pellizzari said.
“And you can bring that into every subject, even science with creation and nature. You can really bring spirituality into everything and the kids love it,” Migon said.
But she said that one of the biggest changes she’s seen in her time teaching is the diminishing presence of the sisters in the school hallways, “the lack of the sisters in our schools, the lack of a physical presence. I miss that for the kids and the spiritual side, not that we can’t bring that to them — I think we do and I think we do a good job — but I think that it’s still different,” Migon said.
Pellizzari said one of the biggest changes she’s seen in her time teaching is the use of technology in the classroom. “I was talking about a cassette recorder and [the students] didn’t know what that was,” she said, laughing. “I had to bring one in to show them.”
There have, of course, been changes to the students over the years as well. “For these new teachers it’s not just the academics. Today’s kids need to be fed in so many ways now,” Pellizzari said. Busy schedules packed with practice time for sports, instruments, arts and language leave little time for family or even time to play.
Still, both Migon and Pellizzari said they love the challenges and rewards that come with being Catholic school teachers.
“I always felt it was a calling,” Pellizzari said. “I went to Catholic schools my whole life, but I really felt like this was something I was called to do.”
Migon nodded. “Very rarely have I referred to this as a job,” she said. “It’s a ministry. And knowing that makes it much more fulfilling than a job would be.”