Progressive Fenwick English Teacher Geralyn Magrady finds common ground with students; treats sophomores to live duet in classroom.
By Mark Vruno (photos and video by Scott Hardesty)
What’s on your playlist? A playlist is, of course, a list of digital, audio files that can be played back on a media player either sequentially or in a shuffled order. In its most general form, a playlist is simply a list of songs, according to Wikipedia. And almost all the kids have their favorite, thematically inspired lists these days — and they’re quite passionate about the music they like.
One may not think that playlists in 2019 have much in common with Charles Dickens and A Tale of Two Cities, the historical novel written about the French Revolution 160 years ago. Fenwick English Teacher Geralyn Magrady, however, would beg to differ. Ms. Magrady was introduced to a creative, character-analysis activity when she participated in Stevie Van Zandt’s (“Little Steven”) TeachRock professional-development program. (Yes, that Steven Van Zandt – Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Bandmate and of “The Sopranos” HBO/cable TV fame.)
“The idea is to develop a playlist for a main character, and I chose Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities,” Magrady explains. The next day, she asked her English II College Prep students to do the same. The assignment took off running.
“The final result turned into a virtual album with a mix of every student’s top song,” she reports. In addition to the collection, each morning the classes listened to part of a classmate’s pick. “They took notes as to the connections found between the characters and the lyrics,” she says, “and then discussion was opened to share those insights.”
The teacher asked students which of their peers’ selected songs worked best to describe the Carton character? Responses in one class were as eclectic as the children are diverse: “Humility” by the Gorillaz, “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, “Lucid Dreams” by Juice Wrld, “Drinkin’ Problem” by Midland and “Reminds Me of You” by Van Morrison.
Along with her students, Magrady continued her own character-inspired playlist, which included original songs by some local musicians whom she knows. These two artists agreed to perform those tunes for her classes: Strumming their acoustic guitars at Fenwick, Rob Pierce sang “Rise Above” and Terry White played “When Your Hour Comes.”
That resurrection thing
Before beginning, Mr. Pierce offered some context for his young audience: “Just so you guys know, ‘the 101’ is a highway in Los Angeles.” One student recalled, “Hey, there’s a ‘Highway Man’ in the beginning of the book!” The song’s concept of rising ties into Dickens’ resurrection theme, which recurs throughout the story. Brain synapses clearly were firing as students diligently jotted down notes and observations while they listened to the live music. Pierce’s refrain was, “Rise above, rise above; all we do, we do for love.” Another student chimed in after the song was finished: “It makes sense. Sydney [Carton] will do anything for Lucy.”
Mary Marcotte, Barb Shanahan and Lucy White leave big shoes to fill.
New retirees (from left): Lucy White, Mary Marcotte and Barb Shanahan.
Some 80 former students, parents and colleagues past and present gathered in the Fenwick Courtyard on Tuesday evening, June 19th, to share stories and bid a heart-felt farewell to a trio of retiring female faculty and staff members:
English Teacher Mary Marcotte has spent her 44-year career educating youth and sharing a passion for literature and writing. Colleague John Schoeph ’95 was a student in one of Ms. Marcotte’s first classes at Fenwick and later would succeed her as Chair of the English Department. Mr. Schoeph fondly remembers his mentor stressing not to take her tough editing and rewriting suggestions personally. “She would say, ‘You are not what you write,’” he recalls. “The best teachers are the most critical,” Schoeph believes.
She administered her last final exam earlier this month, after 23 years of teaching Friars’ students. Marcotte, who has worked in private and public-school settings during her 44-year teaching career, came to Fenwick in 1994 when the once all-boys institution went co-ed and began admitting female students.
“Mary Marcotte is among Fenwick’s greatest teachers both past and present,” praises Fenwick Principal Peter Groom. “Mary has excellent communication skills and cares deeply about her students. She has taught English at multiple levels, most notably English II Honors, English IV Honors and AP Literature. Countless students were inspired by Ms. Marcotte to continue their love of all things related to English and were also inspired to become better people. She will be missed.”
In addition to teaching in the classroom, for more than two decades Marcotte also has worked with the Fenwick Speech and Debate Teams and served as a Write Place Advisor, Yearbook Moderator and Director for Student Publications. She also has been an excellent mentor for new teachers over the years, Mr. Groom points out.
Schoeph adds: “Mary launched Touchstone, which hadn’t existed prior to our class’s founding it under her leadership,” he recalls. Touchstone is an annual magazine that features student writing and artwork, including poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and drama as well as multimedia forms of creative expression. “She has been a valuable resource for teachers new to Fenwick,” Schoeph adds, “cheerfully handing over file folders of her materials, not to copy but to use as springboards for original assignments.”
Marcotte also has been instrumental in fostering superior writing skills among Fenwick’s students. “She often helped out in the Write Place, at one time working with a few others to bring our writing center’s program to the attention of other schools,” Schoeph notes.
Of her students at Fenwick, “I am constantly in awe of their potential,” says Marcotte, who resides in Elmhurst with her husband Paul, an attorney. “I have been privileged to help them realize that potential. I like to think that I’ve taught with my students. Lively discourse and enlightened essays ensue when they become confident in their opinions. It truly is gratifying to hear about their successes at and beyond Fenwick.”
She is particularly proud of the work she has done with numerous juniors and seniors while constructing their college essays. “This has been such an enriching personal experience, from the drafting to the final copy,” Marcotte notes, “whether the essay is just part of the college application or for awarding scholarship monies. I got to see and appreciate the core values of many of our Friars, and I am humbled to have had these experiences. We truly have remarkable young men and women among us!”
Marcotte also takes pride in her other teaching awards, which include:
Innovation and Creativity in Teaching Award from the Archdiocese of Chicago (2006)
Golden Apple Finalist (2001)
Rev. George Conway, O.P. Outstanding Teacher Award (1997) – voted on by peers
Interestingly, Marcotte was not a natural-born teacher. “I actually wanted to be a nurse, but life takes mysterious turns,” she explains. “In the summer before college, I was in a car accident and suffered several broken vertebrae. I could not meet my college commitment for nursing, so I became friends with a wonderful librarian who kept giving me lists of literary classics. Along with my mother, this librarian inspired me to major in English, particularly World and British Literature. I also have certifications in World Religions and Church History.
“Today one of the influences I want to have on my grandchildren is to value the opportunities presented by local libraries,” she continues. “We are so fortunate to live in a country where these services are provided, and we can never take them for granted.” She also frequently attends Shakespeare plays at Navy Pier in Chicago and enjoys traveling to Canada for the Stratford Festival, an internationally recognized annual repertory theater festival that runs annually (April through October) in the city of Stratford, Ontario. At home, Marcotte is an avid gardener. “When I’m not outside in the yard, I love growing orchids,” she shares.
More than 225 years of combined education experience is represented by these six Fenwick Friars. Each cupcake candle represents 38 years!
Theology Teacher Lucy White also is retiring. “Lucy has given her heart and soul to Catholic education for decades,” says Groom. “At Fenwick, she has taught thousands of our freshmen scripture in a comprehensive way. Through her approach the students have gained a real depth of understanding. As the Director of the Kairos program our students were able to explore the role that spirituality played in their lives while bringing them closer to both their family and God. She has been a role model and friend to so many.”
Of Ms. White, Brother Joseph Trout, O.P., Theology Department Chair, says: “Lucy came to Fenwick because of her love for God. She taught her students to know the God who is love. Generously, she shared with everyone the depth of her love. She directed Kairos because she helps others experience God’s own love. She is retiring because she made a vow to, in sickness and in health, give herself to Phil [her husband] in love. Lucy has earned her accolades and awards over the years, but it pales in comparison to one fact: Lucy White is a living, breathing lesson in love. If you want to understand Jesus’ words, ‘love one another as I have loved you,’ you need simply look to her.”
Theology colleague Mr. Patrick Mulcahy adds: “Lucy is fond of saying, ‘I want kids to fall in love with God.’ She was much known and loved by her students and the seniors she led on Kairos. When she took over the Kairos program she really refocused it in a positive way. My fondest memory of Lucy’s class was the practice she had of selecting individual students and praying over them with the rest of the class in a very personal way. She really knew her students. It was truly something to witness. As a senior teacher I saw, year after year, how her students were some of the best prepared in their knowledge of Scripture. As in the case of all great teachers, ‘Lucy the Person’ was the true teacher. She has had many challenges in her life and her faith is a model to all of us in how she has coped with those challenges. She will be greatly missed.”
Friend and Social Studies Teacher Mary Beth Logas: “Lucy is someone who understands unconditional love like perhaps no one else I know. The courage with which she has faced a great many challenges and problems in her life, even before her husband’s illness, is inspiring to anyone who knows her story — and she has been generous with it to the many Fenwick students who have heard it on Kairos. The depth and constancy of her faith are a magnificent legacy to our kids in a world where faith is questioned, its value to the human spirit derided and, increasingly, Christians are persecuted in ways almost reminiscent of the trials of the early church.
“I will miss her friendship and support more than I can express. My overwhelming feeling is that this can’t be happening. I know Lucy does not feel like she has done all she can at Fenwick, but there is another great trial of love before her, and if there was ever anyone with their priorities straight, it’s Lucy. The best thing her Fenwick family can do is to keep in touch with her, for in its very nature the task that lies before her is isolating, even were she not leaving a community where she and her husband have had roots for so many years. I plan on putting some miles on my car between here and Madison in future.”
Student Services Administrative Assistant Barbara Shanahan joins White and Marcotte on the retirement path. Ms. Shanahan has been at Fenwick for 32 years, spending most of her time as the right-hand lady for Rich Borsch and the other counselors. Diana Caponigri, former Director of Scheduling and Records at Fenwick, pays tribute to Barb:
“When I think of Barb, I think of someone who is intensely loyal; someone who is willing to help even though she has a million things on her own desk; someone who has a keen sense of humor; who has much patience; and someone who is able to handle those million things on her desk efficiently and humbly. I could go on and on. She is one of the core people at Fenwick who do so much behind the scenes and don’t get much credit for their work. As a matter of fact, much of what she does enables other people to shine. She is able to anticipate, to keep herself organized, and to get the job done. Did I mention that I think very highly of her? She wants little credit for what she does, believing that if you have a job to do, you just do it and do it as best you can.
“Some of my own cherished memories of Fenwick involve Barb. If I needed numbers about some scheduling situation, such as verification of the number of requests for a certain course, she would be on the phone quickly to respond. If I needed some information about who was not coming back so I could delete some course requests, she would get to a counselor if she didn’t know the information and then get back to me quickly. I depended on her, and knew she would never let me down. Many years ago we had a student who was confined to a wheelchair and, between Barb and myself, we made sure that this boy could access his classes, which sometimes meant moving the class with its teacher to a different floor so this could happen. Being that Fenwick does what it can to accommodate special situations, some of these situations have to be handled by a person rather than a machine, and Barb was often that person. If I didn’t remember a special situation, Barb would be there to remind me or make the change herself and tell me about it. I trusted her. She would constantly update me on her progress doing whatever she was doing when we were scheduling. I always thought we made a good team whether it was working on a scheduling item or something else.
“Another memory I have is her kindness and concern to accommodate me when I would help proctor the many tests we give on Saturdays, such as an ACT, SAT or some other test. She would try to get me in a room with a computer so I could do some work while administering the test and would give me the extended-time students, which meant I would have a smaller number of students to watch. I truly appreciated this.
“In years long since gone by, we would celebrate office birthdays and she would include me when a birthday was celebrated in the Student Services area. She felt I was part of the group because of the work I did with counselors concerning scheduling, grades and other issues. She is very thoughtful.
“She and I had several opportunities to go for training for the student database, and I have some very nice memories of those too. It was so nice to spend some time with her away from the school environment and to see her relax and enjoy herself.
“I wish her the best of rest, relaxation and peace in her retirement years. These are years she so well deserves. Thank you, Barb, for all you have done for me. Thank you for your support, your help and for being you.
200 Combined Years!
Celebrating his 85th birthday is Father LaPata (center) flanked by Mr. Finnell (left) and Mr. Borsch, who both have more than 50 years of dedicated service to Fenwick.
Also feted were the 50 year service anniversaries of Associate Principal/Student Services Director Richard Borsch and alumnus/Math Teacher Roger Finnell ’59! This quintet of Fenwick teachers and administrators has more than 200 years of combined experience!
Mr. Borsch, while not yet retiring, is marking his 50th school year at Fenwick. “Mr. Borsch started at Fenwick as both a teacher and coach,” Groom points out. “Early on he demonstrated excellent interpersonal skills which lead him to be quickly moved into a leadership position in our counseling office. Rich transformed our counseling office into what we have today. As a college counselor, Mr. Borsch has been one of the greats. I have personally witnessed his ability to connect with the students and parents to help them find the best fit. His knowledge of colleges and their specific admissions offices is unparalleled.”
Last but most certainly not least, those in attendance also celebrated the 85th birthday of President EmeritusFr. Richard LaPata, O.P. ’50 (on May 22nd). Listen in as Fenwick’s 1,200-member student body sings to the “birthday boy” last month.
Meet English Department Chair, French Teacher, Fall Play Director and Alumnus John Schoeph ’95.
What is your educational background?
JS: I am an alumnus of Fenwick with an undergraduate degree from Dominican University in English and education and a postgraduate degree from DePaul in English (literature).
What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?
JS: I enjoy music and writing quite a bit. From listening to almost all genres of music, including techno, indie, and opera, to playing piano, I find such enjoyment in music. And I like writing poems, stories, and plays for fun these days. Crafting a poem or a story helps keep my eye critical when it comes to literary analysis in class. Above all else, though, I love to pray and laugh.
What did you do to prepare for becoming a teacher at Fenwick?
JS: Both prior to and during my first few years, I studied and researched. I researched extensively to ensure a strong command of the subjects, skills, and topics I was teaching in both English and French. I did the same with theater. I can picture myself taking notes from stacks of books and organizing lectures and designing lessons. I know Fenwick students. I need to know the material well and present it well. Back then, I relied on only certain persons for advice and ideas, and, with their blessing, ran with their ideas in my own way. I never borrowed a lesson plan. With the exception of keeping some Fenwick traditions alive and making sure Mr. DePaldo’s vocabulary notebook lived on, I never asked for someone’s quiz, test, vocabulary list, or assignment to use. At the most, I relied on others’ good lessons as springboards to design my own.
Among the “certain people” I relied on for sound advice in preparing were my parents and grandparents, Mr. DePaldo, Frau Barr, Madame Schnabel, Mr. Arellano, Dr. Lordan, Mrs. Marcotte and the Dominican University Sisters. Mr. Finnell was incredibly helpful in preparing me for directing.
Which clubs/sports/activities do you run at Fenwick?
JS: The hats I currently wear outside teaching include serving as director of the fall plays and as the English coach for WYSE. I truly enjoy both because I see our students’ excellence at pursuits and passions outside the classroom. Our fall plays are not typical high school quality — they are exceptional. Our WYSE team wins State. It’s so neat to be a part of two such special groups of students and moderators. The energy in the theater program is contagious, and we work to touch patrons’ souls through our craft. The scholarship in the English WYSE sessions is admirable and showcases a concern for the mastery of our language. What’s more is that these are extra-curricular activities, and students don’t have to do extra when they work as hard as they do on coursework alone. They take these on because they enjoy them and want to grow in the skills each activity offers. That’s dedication! And I love being a part of that!
What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?
JS: While they may develop over time, the qualities that mark a Fenwick student include striving for excellence in all pursuits, a strong constitution — Friars are “of steel” — and well-rounded, fun-to-be-around personalities. We have some of the best students in the world. I love that our students see the teachers as persons to work with, not against. I love that they not only don’t mind being nudged to step it up, but request that extra push when they know they need one. If most Fenwick students think they have done mediocre work, no one will be harder on those students than those students themselves. Despite this tendency, they are fun-loving, well-balanced, and virtuous individuals.
What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?
What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?
MM: This is my 43rd year of teaching and my 22nd year at Fenwick. My past teaching experience before Fenwick was both public and private. People often ask me to explain the difference between the catholic and public school environments. In a word, the answer is “atmosphere.” But to explain atmosphere, I would point to the Dominican philosophy. The aura surrounding a Friar is one of developing leadership, seeking discourse in scholarship all the while united in Prayer. As a teacher here at Fenwick, I am constantly in awe of our students’ potential and am privileged to help them realize that potential.
What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?
MM: I am an avid gardener, and my garden was featured on a garden walk in 2002. When I am not outside, I love growing orchids, particularly miniature varieties. Also, I love and frequently attend Shakespeare plays at Navy Pier and at the Stratford Festival in Canada.
Which clubs/Sports/Activities do you run at Fenwick?
MM: My past sponsorships/advisories have included: Speech and Debate, Touchstone Magazine, Yearbook (8 Gallery of excellence awards) and Write Place Advisor. I was also English Department Chair for seven years. Currently, I am Director for Student Publications. Continue reading “Faculty Focus: April 2017”