Janine Sena-Saputo, M.A. '03, changed careers after 9-11, earned a master's degree and became New York State Social Studies Teacher of the Year.

by Erin Donohue

“I wanted to get through school quickly and Adelphi’s graduate program lasted a year and a half with summer school and the student teaching.”—Janine Sena-Saputo, M.A. ’03

For Janine Sena-Saputo, M.A. ’03, teaching runs in the family. But she began her career in marketing and communications for Target Corporation and Liz Claiborne Inc. after earning a degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology.

After the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, she decided to switch gears—to leave Manhattan and change careers.

“I realized that it’s not about handbags, it’s about doing something good in this life,” the Merrick, New York, native said. “I gave my two weeks’ notice and started classes at Adelphi.”

While attending classes on Adelphi’s Garden City campus, Ms. Sena-Saputo became a substitute teacher in the North Merrick Union Free School District. Thanks to Adelphi’s flexible class schedule, she took classes on Sundays and two evenings a week to earn a master’s degree in the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education.

“I wanted to get through school quickly and Adelphi’s graduate program lasted a year and a half with summer school and the student teaching,” she said. After graduating, she became a fifth-grade teacher at Thomas J. Lahey Elementary School in Greenlawn, New York.

Ms. Sena-Saputo credits her time at Adelphi for her success in the classroom—which led her principal to nominate her for Long Island Teacher of the Year in 2011. After receiving that award, she was named New York State Social Studies Teacher of the Year for the 2012–2013 academic year.

“To be a really great teacher, you have to be kind, organized, flexible, caring, loving and inquisitive,” she said. “Somebody who is a lifetime learner and doesn’t get set in their ways. Somebody who has the ability to change because day-to-day life in the classroom is never the same.”

For Ms. Sena-Saputo, inspiration has come from the first teacher she ever met—her dad.

“My father was a history teacher,” she said. “We would spend lots of time touring Long Island and New York City when I was younger, and he would give tidbits of information that I thought were silly but am now just inspired by.”

Ms. Sena-Saputo has honed an ability to teach a lesson in a way that makes a lasting impression on students. A case in point is how she teaches her fifth-graders about taxation during the American Revolutionary War: using 10 M&Ms as currency and taxing the children in class who are wearing jeans.

Many of Ms. Sena-Saputo’s former students still keep in touch with her. “I think what I’m most proud of is leaving some sort of imprint on their lives,” she said. “I have a group that visits or writes to me via email. They talk to me about how inspiring some of my lessons were.”

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