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Gone…..but NEVER Forgotten

It is this time of year that my thoughts go out to students who are beginning a new school year and teachers who will touch their lives. As seniors commence from high school and enter college or the work field, they often give accolades to their high school teachers who have most recently been an influence but their lives. However, I challenge you to think back to those teachers who first were influential in your learning, those teachers who taught six to 12 years in the past. Who were those precious individuals who first taught you, who endeavored to engage you in learning, and taught you lessons that would last beyond the classroom?

My mind has been racing with the thoughts of a certain individual for the last eight months, ever since he passed from this world. Each month seemed to bring a new memory of him. The latest memory came at the start of the Little League World Series where he served as a team uncle for 43 years. He would guide the visiting teams, listen to players and coaches and help make their lives easier and more memorable. He served each one unselfishly. In order for Michael “Mick” Cioffi to be ready for the first days of school, he could plan his lesson sets at the beginning of August, working in his room when it was open for hours to get everything ready for the students who would be in class the day after the Series ended. His interactive learning started with the students, the minute they entered the room. There was no down time.

He engaged his students in learning, not just subject matter but lessons in good self-concept, self-confidence, character, and working together as a team. He was the first teacher in my office when my boxes were still sitting in a heap in the middle of the office floor, seeking support for an idea that he had that would involve students in third through fifth grade. It was his vision for the Round Hills Theatre Club that became a reality during the fall of 2007. had spent years building children’s theatres in several schools so it was not hard to convince me to champion his vision. December 2007, “Mr. C,” as the students often referred to him, saw his vision become a reality as the Round Hills Theatre Club presented Snow Biz. There was standing room only over three nights of the production. I had watched these students from the beginning of rehearsals to the end production metamorphosis from shy, silent, scared students to self-confident and proud actors in their first theatrical production.

This dream grew from 15 years of directing and producing the third grade musical that was a May event at Round Hills. Again, this production had to have multiple performances to accommodate all of the audience members who wished to attend. Often as I would hear rehearsals across the hall from my office, I would drift to the multi-purpose room to eagerly watch the students as they turned history into drama. One day, an individual came behind me and said, “Do you really think this is a good use of instructional time.” I replied, “Tell me which one of those 50 kids is not engaged in learning right now. Are these students learning from the words they are speaking and singing? Are any of them reading from a book or a script? Is it important for students to be able to memorize and recite what they have learned?” This was “a phenomenal use of instructional time,” I told him.

At the last musical I attended before leaving the school, an adult told me he remembered the third-grade musical he had been in many years ago and how Mr. Cioffi had created in him a desire and love for learning due to the way he taught every day. The musicals Mr. Cioffi chose were always historical in nature and provided a lesson, most often, in U.S. History. I wonder if anyone reading this was one of those students who learned from the classroom and beyond because of being in one of “Mr. C’s” musicals?

Michael Cioffi was the Williamsport Area School District teacher of the year in 2008-2009, an honor he greatly deserved. The following year he was nominated for the Pennsylvania State Teacher of the Year. I had the honor of writing the following in his letter of recommendation to the state Department of Education:

“After class lists were posted two weeks prior to the opening of the 2008-09 school year, a mother came to my office and stated that she wanted her son to be switched from another third-grade classroom to Mr. Cioffi’s room. This was not uncommon in that many parents requested Mr. Cioffi’s classroom during my two years at Round Hills. However, this parent explained to me how her older son had hated school through the second grade due to a few unfortunate incidents in prior grades and she thought he would always hate school. However, when he became part of Mr. Cioffi’s third-grade class, he developed an entirely new attitude and demeanor concerning school. He got up on his own in the morning and could not wait to get to school so he could be part of what was happening in class that particular day. She further explained to me how her younger son needed that same kind of motivation and needed to be taught the love of learning. I reluctantly made the change in the class list to move her son to Mr. Cioffi’s classroom. I told the mother that I would be watching her son carefully and hopefully with the school involved, her son’s attitude toward school and learning would change. Within the first four weeks of school, her son transformed from the student with his head down on his desk to the most eager volunteer in the room. Students in Mr. Cioffi’s classroom come to school excited to learn and he never disappointed them.”

When Round Hills Elementary School closed, Mr. Cioffi was transferred to a sixth-grade teaching position at the Lycoming Valley Intermediate School. He immediately hit the ground running and received permission to create the Lycoming Valley Intermediate School Theatre Club for sixth-grade students. He arranged to have the theatre curtains that had been purchased for Round Hills retrofitted for the Lycoming Valley multi-purpose room and another theatre club was born. This theatre club gave many more students the opportunity to experience the personal growth from the theatre experience. Mr. Cioffi demonstrated not only his ability to lead students but also colleagues and parents in these endeavors. Mr. Cioffi has continually demonstrated the current educational research literature concerning teacher leadership and repeatedly demonstrated his skill in empowering teachers, parents, and community for the betterment of the students.

“Mr. C” was taken too early from this world due to the horrible pandemic. It is my hope that if your life has been touched by him, you will reach out to his wife Barb and his children Meredith and Michael and share your personal experiences with them. It was stated in Mick’s obituary that personal memories could be shared at www.crousefuneralhome.com. All of us who had the privilege of working with Mick truly had strong learning lessons through working with him.

My final memorial tribute to Mr. C is: From the time I met you, through the times you have touched me working side by side with one thing in mind, to put students in the spotlight, and then watch the glow and shine as they were changed for good right in front of our eyes! Because all these numerous students knew you, were taught by you, were cared for by you, and mentored by you, they have been changed for good. I pray that God has blessed you with a special place in His Kingdom, where you are teaching the children of heaven.

Robert L. Williams, Ph.D, is a former administrator in the Williamsport Area School District.

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