Rebecca Marino, kindergarten teacher at St. Margaret’s School in Mattydale, is still in shock. Two days before Christmas, she learned that she was to receive the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) Distinguished Teacher Award at a ceremony on April 7 in Orlando, Fla.
“I was awestruck,” recalled Marino. “It was such a surprise.”
Amanda Hopkins, principal of St. Margaret’s, remembered when Marino, who was directing a prayer service practice with her students at the time, received a phone call from the president of the NCEA informing her she was to receive the distinguished award. “They [students] were really excited,” Hopkins remembered. “It was beautiful.”
“I was shocked,” said Marino. “I feel that God did this. I feel so honored.”
Marino said she has received notes of congratulations from former principals she has worked with as well as former students and teachers via Facebook. “It’s so beautiful to be remembered,” she said.
When asked why she thought she had been nominated for the award, Marino responded, “I think that I’ve always been good with children and I provide them with a positive learning environment and they respond to it.”
Hopkins is very pleased that one of her staff was singled out. “I am so honored to have someone at our school receive the award,” said Hopkins. “To have one of our staff recognized like this — I really feel like we have a very special teaching team here. We’re excited and proud of our school community and to have one of our members recognized like this.”
To qualify for the award, a person must be a teacher in a Catholic elementary school for at least 10 years; have a clear, integrated philosophy of Catholic education; be an institutional or individual member of the NCEA Elementary Schools Department; and be a teacher that is regarded highly by peers, students and parents.
“She’s wonderful,” remarked Hopkins. “She has an unwavering dedication to Catholic education. She comes in early and leaves late and is in charge of many projects.” Marino is also involved with after school and summer programs.
Marino has taught in Syracuse’s Catholic schools for over 30 years. She started her teaching career at St. James and St. Vincent de Paul Schools, teaching first grade for four years before taking on the position of kindergarten teacher at St. Margaret’s in 1986.
Although Marino said she loved teaching first grade, there are certain aspects of teaching kindergarten that she finds especially fulfilling. “There’s extreme growth in kindergarten,” explained Marino. “You see the value of your teaching. In January, you see a spark in their [students’] knowledge. It’s very exciting to see the change in their maturity and their learning. It’s phenomenal.”
Hopkins said that Marino has a positive outlook, even during challenging situations. “She’s a wonderful team player,” said Hopkins. “She is very supportive and has a very positive outlook when we are in a challenging situation — she looks for the positive in every situation.”
“I love my job and students — this is a happy family here at school,” Marino said. She commented on how she and the school’s other 16 teachers work together. “We talk to each other about the good things and bad — without judgment. We just work together to get things done. Amanda [Hopkins] always says, ‘We do whatever is best for the kiddies.’”
Marino, who is part of the faith communities at both St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Baldwinsville and St. Margaret’s in Mattydale, said her faith plays a large part in her interactions with the students and staff. “I have taught my students that Jesus said, ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ I try to live that way,” she added.
Shawn Trichilo, Marino’s aide and St. Margaret’s office assistant, said she is very proud of Marino. “She’s an excellent teacher and is one-of-a-kind,” she said. “The children respond really well to her.”
Joellyn Murry, St. Margaret’s librarian, agreed. “She’s great,” she said. “She has an air of experience and competence. She keeps them [her students] in line and she brings new elements into the classroom.”
Marino said she realized she wanted to become a teacher at a very young age. She added that she did well in school and that she was the first person in her family to attend college. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Gettysburg College, she received a master’s in education from SUNY Cortland. In addition, she received her certification for special education from Le Moyne College.
Marino summed up the secret to her special acievement: “I feel that if you love the children and what you are doing — that’s the recipe for success.”