To call Irene Pizzo dedicated would be an understatement. She drives nearly two hours from KAPPA 5 to her home in Centereach, Long Island.
by Cecil Harris“New York City has such an amazing group of kids who need good teachers.”—Irene Pizzo, ’03, M.A. ’04
Irene Pizzo, a graduate of the Scholar Teacher Education Program (S.T.E.P.) at Adelphi University, has a message for alumni who aspire to be more than teaching assistants or substitute teachers: Consider New York City.
“I know a lot of S.T.E.P. graduates who still don’t have full-time teaching positions,” Mrs. Pizzo said. “That’s because they’re only considering schools on Long Island. But New York City has such an amazing group of kids who need good teachers.”
Mrs. Pizzo has found such a group at Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy (a.k.a., KAPPA 5) in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Since 2009, she has taught biology, chemistry and physical science at the inner-city public school that serves grades 6–8.
“In addition to teaching, we work on team building and developing students’ social skills,” she said. “A lot of the kids are home alone after school because their parents are working. We tell our kids, ‘You are going to college. You are not just passing through school.’”
Make no mistake: Brownsville is a tough neighborhood. Some students have siblings or parents who are gang members. Some students live in homeless shelters. One student told Mrs. Pizzo she was happy that her family was moving to the fifth floor in the same apartment building. Why? “We won’t have bullets going through our windows anymore,” the girl said.
Yet Mrs. Pizzo is quick to mention that Brownsville has many caring and compassionate people. One neighborhood woman who doesn’t have a child at KAPPA 5 went to the school to express concern because Mrs. Pizzo had not been parking in front of her home lately. “Where’s your teacher with the curly brown hair?” the woman asked.
It turns out Mrs. Pizzo was on maternity leave. The mother of four gave birth to Michael III on April 27. Her husband, Michael Jr., is an accountant. She said her daughters, Molly, 8, and Anna, 6, would attend Adelphi someday. Her eldest child, Dennis, 10, is autistic, and she credits the special education classes taught by Adelphi professor Stephen S. Rubin, Ph.D., with helping in the rearing of her son.
“Irene was a standout teacher candidate—a hard-working and dedicated educator,” Dr. Rubin said. “In one course, Irene, who was set to take a family leave in the latter part of the semester, worked diligently to not only complete all of the course assignments before her leave, but also to ensure that her work met her usual high standards of academic rigor.”
When Mrs. Pizzo came to Adelphi, she had planned to attend medical school. But after working as a volunteer tutor in Hempstead, New York, she became interested in teaching. Enrolling in S.T.E.P. in the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education proved a perfect fit. She secured an internship in the Bellmore-Merrick school district on Long Island and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in secondary education in five years.
Mrs. Pizzo taught at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School, a private school in West Islip, New York. But the Hempstead experience taught her she derived more satisfaction from working with inner-city students—gaining their trust, helping them acquire proficiency in subjects they once considered too difficult, seeing their confidence grow. She taught at a public school in Bushwick, another hardscrabble Brooklyn neighborhood, before going to work at KAPPA 5, which has a student dress code and strict anti-bullying policy.
To call Mrs. Pizzo dedicated would be an understatement. She drives nearly two hours from KAPPA 5 to her home in Centereach on Long Island. Last November, she brought mashed potatoes and stuffing to school and an assistant principal brought turkeys, so students from families in need could have a traditional Thanksgiving.
“I can honestly tell you I want to take home a hundred of my kids,” said Mrs. Pizzo, who hopes other Adelphi graduates will consider joining her at KAPPA 5. “It’s a wonderful school, and our kids appreciate what they’re learning. It’s rewarding to see students come in as sixth graders and they’re frightened, but by the eighth grade, they become young ladies and young men who think they own the world.”
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