Saying goodbye is never easy, but on Sunday when the staff gathered at Green-Wood Cemetery to join former second grade teacher, Stefania Di Stefano’s family, it felt particularly hard. We were touched and not surprised to find so many of us there. We were touched, but not surprised to see some of her former students and parents. And we were touched, but not surprised to see how many friends and relatives she had. Stefania leaves behind two lovely parents, her husband, two children, a sister, a brother in law, and a niece and a nephew.
And Stefania leaves behind all of us. Last week Amanda gathered with her former students, third graders who were attached to Stefania even though she was only their teacher for two days in September. And today, Polly and Karen will eat lunch with the fourth grade children who had Stefania while Abby and Brandon will gather with the fifth graders from her class. Last Monday, teachers had a chance to share their memories, and it is only fitting that the kids do the same.
We first got to know Stefania when she came to Brooklyn New School as a student teacher, working alongside Dolores, a former fourth grade teacher. We knew from Stefania’s way of being with the children that we had met someone special, and were pleased to be able to hire her as a substitute teacher. Initially, Stefania subbed a day here and a day there, but when our kindergarten teacher, Valerie, became pregnant, we asked Stefania to cover for her. Stefania’s presence in Valerie and Marisol’s classroom made a twelve week leave comfortable and easy for the kids. The kindergarten team and I knew then that Stefania needed to stay at BNS.
That year we had an opening in kindergarten. Lots of people interviewed for the job, but one interview was different from all of the others. When Stefania spoke about children, she spoke with her heart. That’s the kind of teacher we want here, one who speaks from the heart.
Stefania joined the K team. Two years later, when we needed a second grade teacher, we knew who should join that team. Again we thought of Stefania.
It has been hard to watch Stefania get sick and to see her suffer, but through it all, she has been so very brave and strong. Always, she thought first and foremost of her students, taking them on trips even when the walk was long and hard, sitting by them to ensure that their Island Stories reflected their ideas and passions, and teaching about structure in such a way as to support the construction of magnificent bridges. Bridges, which she so artfully connected to friendship. Watch a moment from Stefania’s class here. The students are now 7th graders.
Bridges: sturdy and strong and supporting people as they reach out to each other, hand in hand in friendship and in love.
All for now,
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