In 2020, these Top Teachers went above and beyond in a time of crisis.
Susan Pennacchia is a teacher at Saints Peter and Paul School.
From playing an imaginary teacher as a child to actually becoming one, Susan Pennacchia has always had a love for education. Now, she’s 31 years into a rich career in Catholic schools.
Never straying from the elementary level, Pennacchia teaches fourth-grade students at West Chester’s Saints Peter and Paul School. “I love the nurturing that we get to do with that age group,” she says.
Pennacchia admits she wasn’t prepared for the virtual turn of events when schools shuttered earlier this year. “I realized that I needed to get more tech-savvy than I’ve ever been,” she says.
She did so with the help of her colleagues, opting for the Google suite, which allows students to interact before and after class. Soon enough, the students and their teacher were logging on early. “That was our time to talk about who got a new puppy or whose aunt is expecting a baby,” she says. “That’s the part I enjoyed—listening to their laughter, realizing that they were feeling a little at ease and not as anxious.”
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Looking to provide structure and a sense of normalcy, Pennacchia maintained a rough approximation of a typical school day, balancing subject lessons with independent and group work. “I tried to pick topics that were different genres but also had some high interest that I expected would hold their attention,” she says.
Taking things beyond the usual reading primer, Pennacchia introduced students to the novel Because of Mr. Terupt. The kids loved it, wanting to stay online longer so they could read more.
At the end of the school year, Pennacchia bought each student the sequel, which she hand-delivered, along with a treat.
Pennacchia also gave them a keepsake. Throughout the pandemic, she’d asked students to write one thing they liked about each of their classmates. She then assembled the responses in a picture frame for each child. “I thought that was a nice way to end the school year,” says Pennacchia. “They weren’t with their classmates until the end, but they saw the positive impact that they had on each other.”