Feb 26, 2014

Prize Patrol surprises six Catholic school ‘teachers of excellence’



Story and photos by Terence Hegarty

SPRINGFIELD – Half a dozen Catholic school teachers were surprised Feb. 25 and 26 as an unannounced classroom visit by the diocesan "Prize Patrol" recognized them for teaching excellence.

The annual covert rounds of Franciscan Sister of St. Joseph M. Andrea Ciszewski, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Springfield, and Gail Furman, associate superintendent, involved the bestowing of balloons and flowers to each recipient. Sister Ciszewski and Furman make up what is called the Prize Patrol. They appear in the classrooms of awardees without notice, notifying them that they have been recognized.

The Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Awards are given out annually to public and private school teachers. The awards were both founded and funded by local philanthropist Harold Grinspoon 11 years ago. Today, several local sponsors join in underwriting the awards.

An awards banquet is to take place May 6 at the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House in Holyoke to bestow the awards. Each teacher will then also receive a $500 check for their personal use.

The first stop for the Prize Patrol was in West Springfield to surprise Maureen Brouillard, a fourth-grade teacher at St. Thomas the Apostle School.

“I am speechless, I’m shocked. I was just was going about my ordinary Tuesday morning when all these people start appearing in my classroom,” Brouillard told iobserve. “I still haven’t really settled in to think about what just happened.”

Even without thinking too much about the recognition, Brouillard said she was grateful. “It means a lot to me that people here at St. Thomas would nominate me for an award like this,” she said.

Joining the Prize Patrol was Brouillard’s husband and daughter, adding to the joy of the moment for her. She was asked why she thinks that she was nominated for the award. “I love teaching. I come here every morning and enjoy what I do and maybe that just comes out in how I work with the kids,” she said.

Sandra Blasioli, who has been teaching at St. Mary School in Westfield for 15 years, never had such a disturbance in her classroom before. “I’m very surprised,” said Blasioli who teaches sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students.

“I love working here,” she told iobserve, “and to be awarded for doing that is a great honor.”

In addition to Brouillard and Blasioli, the other four award winners are Lisa Beauchemin of St. Stanislaus School in Chicopee, Kathleen Hebert of Holyoke’s Blessed Sacrament School, Lynn Leone from Cathedral High School in Wilbraham, and Susan Stinson from St. Mary School in Ware.

Stealthily proceeding across school grounds and hallways, with the cooperation of school administrators, the Prize Patrol avoided detection by the awardees right up until they bestowed their balloons and flowers to each teacher. Students and family members joined in the celebrations.

Sister Ciszewski said that it is important to make such a fuss over these teachers because they have demonstrated tremendous dedication to their students and their schools. She called teaching in a Catholic school “a great ministry” and said that it is important to call attention to all that these dedicated professionals do.

“We’re very grateful that we have this award to offer to our teachers,” she said. “It’s really important to have this time to go into the classrooms, to allow the students … to celebrate with the teachers.”

Sister Ciszewski said that the teachers “go beyond the call of duty, especially those who are selected for this great award.”

While the financial rewards are not the most lucrative for teachers, especially Catholic school teachers, there are other forms of rewards.

“St. Stan’s is a great place to work,” Beauchemin said. “It is rewarding, generally, to come to work every day because these kids are so wonderful. But, it is nice to get a little bit of extra recognition.”

Hebert says, after 29 years of teaching, she still has the stamina to keep up with kindergarteners all day. “They give me the energy, because, being with them every day, they spark my interest with trying to do different things. I feel like they give me my spark as far as educating them.”

She told iobserve that the key to teaching youngsters is variety. “I’m always looking for fun and different ways to help them learn. It makes it a fun place to be.”

Hebert says that she too was shocked at the arrival of the Prize Patrol. Her mother and sister were also on hand for the occasion. “It was a nice surprise.”

“Teaching is a career that … helps the world and it’s nice to have people acknowledge what a special job it is,” she said.

Leone has been teaching in the history department at Cathedral High School since 1979. She said she believes that she will be receiving the award on behalf of her colleagues.

“It’s a great honor,” she said. “I’m just a representative of my school this year, and that would mean that … we all are in this together, both teachers and students.”

Leone said that working with the students has been the most rewarding part of her career, “seeing them grow and go beyond.”

“It feels great and is quite an honor to receive this award,” said Stinson, who teaches grades four through eight. She told iobserve that she doesn’t feel that such recognition is really necessary, but it is nice.

“Teaching at St. Mary’s is such a joy. I think I have it pretty good. I’m getting recognition, but I also love my job, so you can’t get any better than that.”

In addition to the cash award, each recipient receives an engraved plaque, a three-month YMCA membership, an invitation from WGBY Springfield to take an online course, and a $100 scholarship given by Western New England University, Springfield College, Bay Path College, Our Lady of the Elms College and Westfield State University to take a graduate course.

For more on this story, tune into the March 1 edition of “Real to Reel,” the Diocese of Springfield’s television newsmagazine that airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.