Bishop Lucia blesses new Nancy J. Toscano Learning Center at Bishop Grimes 

By Tom Maguire | Associate editor

The history lover has inspired a new era of “slick” at Bishop Grimes.

Nancy J. Toscano taught history at the East Syracuse high school for over 20 years and put in more than 45 years for the Diocese of Syracuse. After she died in January 2021, her family wanted to give back to Grimes. The school suggested creation of the three-room Nancy J. Toscano Learning Center, where geometry is now a video game, coding is a high school subject too, and iPad-to-TV-screen portraiture is a twin peek called a “screen mirror.”

Sitting in the new learning lab/tutoring room with its 70-inch, 4K Apple TVs and modern,  collaborative furniture, junior Victoria Coppola said: “Just the room itself is very neat and clean, and very slick. So it’s a good environment to study in and it makes you focus a little bit more.” 

The new center, which also sports a main library and an upstairs senior lounge, accentuates the new 1:1 Apple platform throughout the school, according to Principal Allyson Headd. 

A 2008 graduate of Grimes who viewed Nancy Toscano as one of her favorite teachers, Principal Headd summed up the learning center’s namesake: “Nancy Toscano’s legacy will remain physically present within this space, but will forever be in the hearts and minds of her students through her lessons, and the example she set.”

Nancy started as a teacher at the former St. Ann Elementary School in Syracuse, became the principal and retired for a year, said her daughter, Kristen Toscano. Then Msgr. George Sheehan asked her to come back and teach at Grimes, which she did until her retirement. And she “was at almost every basketball game and never missed a performing arts performance,” Principal Headd recalled at the May 25 blessing and ribbon cutting. 

‘Slow and steady’

Kristen said her mother loved global history and AP European history. She remembers Nancy’s encouraging words to her: “‘Just go slow and everything will fall into place; it’ll get done. Just stay slow and steady, and things will get done.’”

They got this one done to the satisfaction of diocesan Superintendent of Schools William W. Crist. On Bishop’s blessing and ribbon-cutting day, Superintendent Crist noticed that the students demonstrating the new center’s attributes had no textbooks or three-ring or spiral notebooks in front of them; the students simply interfaced with screens. “All really new stuff, it’s just fantastic how they’ve made this happen,” the superintendent said.

The space used to hold a library, an old computer lab and a resource-type center. The overall renovations cost over $50,000, with the Toscanos making the lead donation, said Principal Headd. Other donors, she said, were former students of Mrs. Toscano’s, family and friends, faculty at Grimes and those that knew her love of learning.

“My deepest gratitude to the Toscano family for this beautiful learning center,” Bishop Douglas J. Lucia said at the ceremony. “I was just saying that one of my favorite places is the library. I could spend a day in a library, so it is beautiful to have this center with the words ‘faith formation,’ ‘academic excellence’ and ‘service to others’” written above the windows in the library.

“And it’s appropriate that we bless this particular center on the Vigil of the Ascension,” the Bishop said, because one of the great commissions on the day of the Ascension “is to go and teach all nations.”

Bishop Lucia said in his blessing: “Lord God, … send your spirit upon this place of learning, and upon those students and their teachers, and fill them with your wisdom and blessings. Grant that those who use this place may devote themselves to their studies, and may they share what they have learned.”

Father and daughter

Cutting the ribbon were Kristen, who teaches middle school special education in North Carolina, and her father, Anthony Toscano, Jr., of Camillus.

The center’s new furniture includes three-sided mini-cubicles — study thrones that command concentration as the students sit way back and disappear from side view, except for their legs resting on cube stools. One such setup was occupied by Grimes sophomore Ella Reilly, who wants to work for the FBI someday. “I think this is definitely one of the best developments” at Grimes, she said of the new learning center.

“This year is the first year that we actually had the senior lounge and it was definitely a great addition to my senior year,” said Isabella Macro, this year’s Grimes valedictorian, who next will study audiology at Ithaca College. In the upstairs lounge, she and the other seniors can do homework on tabletops that are actually erasable whiteboards (“it’s nice to be able to just quick jot down your thoughts”); play Wii games on the TV; shoot little basketballs; and play air hockey. Bishop Lucia, who elsewhere has dabbled in kickball and softball, tried the air hockey on his visit.

Coppola, the junior who enjoys the slickness of the new space, said that instead of flipping a notebook back and forth, the students who are collaborating can “screen mirror” so that “everyone sitting at the table can see the work you’re working on.” 

Junior Jonathan Corl said, “I think this area is great, and I see it as a place where we can build relationships with one another. … I see people coming down in small groups to work together, maybe on a project or something. And I can see that easily translating into the classroom or on the court or on the fields, which will help our whole school community.”

Corl said he thinks the iPads are important, because “I think that’s where our future’s going. And it’s preparing us for college and for a career, because most likely a lot of things are going to be online. So it’s good to start now” in order to “get a good foundation with technology.”

Kristen Toscano spent some years as a student at Grimes herself. Asked how much of an improvement the new learning center is, she said, “Everything’s been updated, modified, updated for the technology, the growth.” She figures her mother “would absolutely love it. She would adore it.”

The Bishop’s books

Bishop Lucia approved of the selection in the library. He said: “It’s nice to see the books on the shelf. … There’s nothing like taking a book and just reading it, cover to cover. … This way we’re not living it in sound bites; as we would say in law, you’re getting the whole text in context.” 

The Bishop remembers reading St. Augustine’s “The City of God” and Henry Morton Robinson’s “The Cardinal,” which he said sends a message of “not getting too caught up in oneself.” He said the book is about a young priest who “sort of had it all made. And then he ends up going to this very poor parish. And it really changes him for the rest of his life. … He would go from the limelight to more like, well, this is all about the people.”

On a shelf the Bishop spotted William J. Bennett’s “The Book of Virtues.” Chapter titles include “Self-Discipline,” “Compassion,” “Perseverance” and “Faith.” 

“Very good book to have on the shelf,” the Bishop said.


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