Fil is from a large Italian American family, with parents who instilled in her the important values of hard work, service to others, faith, and an appreciation and love for family. Growing up, they didn’t have much money, but they still considered themselves rich, simply because they had each other. Her mother was her hero and her role model, and even though she passed 17 years ago, Fil is still inspired by her every day.
“My mom grew up without parents and was in the foster system in the Bronx since she was born. Her tenacity, generosity, and sacrifice allowed all of her children to live secure and fulfilled lives,” Fil reflected.
For the past 25 years, Fil’s been teaching at the very school she attended as a child. Her school has a big ESL population and is filled with very humble, beautiful children who don’t come from a lot nor have traditional families. These children are her world.
According to Fil, “They have taught me as much as I have taught them!”
Every school year, Fil starts off with a personal narrative unit following Columbia’s Teacher’s College Reader’s/Writer’s Workshop. This first lesson asks students to write about a very special and specific moment in their lives. This reveals the people, experiences and activities most important to the kids.
The writing is based on a process in which they must brainstorm, create lists and adjectives, sketch, and draft and re-draft their stories. Many of her kids are artistic, so they love the creative element of the project. In the end, they publish their stories.
“After the stories were published, we had a celebration of their writing efforts with refreshments, read aloud sessions and a gallery walk,” Fil shared. “We took everyone’s stories, cut off their names and next to each story was a big paper heart and package of sticky notes. Students walked around and read every narrative and wrote a positive comment on each other’s paper hearts, next to their stories. In the end, each student left with a heart full of affirmations!”
Fil was so touched and proud of not only the stories and writing, but by the courage and efforts the students displayed.
“Writing is a difficult task in itself, but writing about something personal can be so intimidating and challenging,” she explained. “In the beginning, many students were apprehensive and lacked confidence. Some started with only a sentence or paragraph, but by the end, every single student had at least 3 paragraphs. Many were beaming with pride because they saw themselves as writers and storytellers!”
The next unit Fil teaches every year is the reading part of the workshop. This year, she chose the book Wonder.
“I taught Wonder in the past, and when we saw that the movie was coming, I had to teach it again. Last time, the author actually came to sign books and present and speak to the students, so the power of this book resonates all year long, year to year,” Fil shared. “This year, after the unit, we took the entire 6th grade (450 students) to see the movie in the theaters. When the movie ended, they all were applauding. They will never forget this experience.”
Fil and the other teachers coordinated Wonder with their anti-bullying practice and advisory lessons.
“My goal is for students to see the importance of the practice of kindness and respect that is the responsibility of each of us on a daily basis. This shows that no matter how small their efforts and actions, they make a difference.”
Fil credits the source of her teaching inspiration to her late mother.
“My mom inspired me to be the kind of teacher who reaches out to all children, and especially the ones who have struggles in their lives. I am very lucky to be in a profession where I get to nurture and help so many extraordinary young people.”
Fil’s mother not only inspired her in her work, but in her sense of style – especially her weakness: shoes.
“My son Jacob told me that my story would not be complete without telling you that I have too many shoes!”
Fil is a remarkable teacher, an incredible mother and friend to so many, including her students. Her story and commitment to developing students as scholars – and as kind, compassionate people – is truly inspiring, and we could not be more proud to have her as a Heartfelt Role Model.