Faculty Farewells: Fanelli retires

Harper Rosenberg, Staff Writer

Susan Fanelli is retiring after many years of teaching math at the school’s MD. She will be moving to where her granddaughter lives in order to see her more often. “I like spending time with young people, I really do,” Fanelli said. She has taught a wide range of math in sixth and seventh grade which all have been different experiences, and she will miss teaching. “I enjoy interacting with the students and the teachers,” she said.

Head of the Middle Division Javaid Khan remembers his first conversation with Fanelli about her sons. “She has three and I am one of three boys, and I appreciated listening to the love of a mom for each of her sons who had very different paths and needs in life,” he said. 

Working with Fanelli was terrific, she cares deeply about her students and fellow colleagues, Khan said. “She works tirelessly on behalf of her [students], who truly benefit from her attention, care, and wisdom,” he said.

MD math teacher Anil Sookhoo met Fanelli his first year at the school in 2019, when she was his mentor. Sookhoo and Fanelli sat next to each other in the office, where she would always ask him about his day, being very supportive and having positive comments to say. “One memory that stuck out to me is constantly being on Facetime with her during the beginning of the pandemic, working through all of the technical difficulties on Zoom, uploading work for students, and venting most of the time,” he said. 

When Sophie Pietrzak (10), one of Fanelli’s former math students, first came to the school, Fanelli welcomed her into the school’s community. “She would always offer to explain concepts to me that I didn’t understand because it was my first year in the United States,” Pietrzak said. Pietrzak began to enjoy math because of Fanelli and is grateful that she was able to help her manage the teaching differences between the education system in England and the United States.

Pietrzak remembers that in class, Fanelli would connect the Smart Board to her Ring camera at home, and they would watch her dog. Fanelli would always bring blue raspberry Jolly Ranchers and Dum Dums lollipops, former advisee Stephanie Lee (10) said.

One of Fanelli’s favorite memories at the school was watching a 747 airplane carry a space shuttle in the sky from Alumni Field in 2012, she said. “It was during Middle Mania and I still have a photograph of it,” she said.

 

Norma Rodriguez

 

“I’ve always felt that my real education began when I joined the [school’s] community 21 years ago,” Norma Rodriguez, MD Advisory coordinator and Faculty Advisor for the Mentor Program, said. Rodriguez is retiring after 21 years at the school to spend more time with her immediate family and to volunteer for organizations that help children.

Rodriguez started out as an Administrative Assistant in the Guidance Department and worked under its former director, Wendy Reiter. “I happened to be reading The Riverdale Press and came across an ad for an opening at HM so I decided to send in my resumé,” she said. “The rest is history.”

After Rodriguez finished touring the beautiful campus with Reiter and meeting the deans, she knew for sure that she wanted to work at the school. “The first time I stepped through the doors at HM I immediately felt I belong here,” she said.

After her third year of employment, Rodriguez attended Lehman College and received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. Afterwards, she became the full-time Life Skills teacher for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. Life Skills is a social-emotional learning class that focuses on many important topics, including decision-making, identity, and different forms of relationships.

Her favorite part about teaching at the middle school was that she got the chance to teach in all three grade levels. “The topics that I covered with students range from self-image to substance use, and it was enlightening to hear students’ perspective and ‘expertise’ on the topics that matter to them,” she said. Many times, those discussions brought laughter. “I just loved being in the classroom with middle schoolers.”

 Mrs. Rodriguez is someone you can trust, Head of the Middle Division Javaid Khan said. “[She can be trusted] to accomplish tasks, dream new ideas, and bounce ideas off of. If you need to vent, she has some strength in the listening department, as well,” he said.

Four years ago, Rodriguez was appointed by Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly to be the coordinator for the MD advisory program. Last school year, she became the faculty advisor for the Mentor Program. “The mentor program has afforded me the opportunity to work with UD students, some of whom I remembered from middle school,” Rodriguez said.

One of Rodriguez’s favorite moments at the school was four years ago when her eighth grade advisory handed her a thank you card during the Middle Memories ceremonies. “Each one of my advisees had written a lovely sentiment and their expression of gratitude really touched me,” she said. 

One card that stuck with her came from a student who wrote, “I view you as my mother at school. Thank you for always being there for me.” Before she retires, Rodriguez will see that same group of students graduate from the school and head off the college. “I am so proud of them,” she said.

Another great memory Rogriguez has from the school is when she volunteered to chaperone a group of eighth grade boys on a service learning trip where they delivered food packages via Project Hope to homebound seniors. “The activity was an eye-opener for many of the students when they realized, in conversation with the seniors, that some had no visitors in months,” she said. 

During the debriefing portion of the activity, the students wanted to know what else they could do for the seniors and many said they would sign up again to deliver food packages in the future. “That brought a big smile to my face,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez will miss the chatter of students, the noisy hallways, and watching nervous sixth graders on the first day of school become confident young teens by the end of their eighth grade year. One of her students who struggled while he was in seventh grade would leave a note on Rodriguez’s desk whenever he wanted to meet with her. “I developed a soft spot for him and I made it my job to make sure he felt supported right through eighth grade,” she said. After all of her help, she received a lovely email from both of the student’s parents and grandmother, thanking Ms. Rodriguez for all that she did for their child. This year, he finished his last year of college.

“I will also miss working with the faculty and my one-on-one discussions with advisors and learning more about them beyond their teaching role,” she said. In her 21 years here, Ms. Rodriguez has developed close friendships with both staff members and faculty.

She was great as an advisor and very comforting, Ariela Shuchman (11), a former advisee of Rodriguez, said. Whenever Schuchman felt overwhelmed or forgot something that was coming up, Rodriguez would bring Shuchman into her office to help her reorganize and reassure her that she was doing great. “Her passion for the [advisory] program is really amazing to see, but outside of the program she’s just a great person within the school community to go to for support,” Shuchman said.

Although he had Mrs. Rodriguez as his Life Skills teacher in MD, he got to know her much better this year, since she serves as the faculty advisor to the MD Mentor Program, and he is one of the program leaders, Michael Shaari (12) said. 

Rodriguez is a very kind, supportive, and understanding teacher who always provides authentic and genuine advice, he said. “The main thing I always notice when working with Rodriguez is how she is very understanding of all circumstances and has the best interests of everybody around in her mind,” Shaari said. She always goes out of her way to help us as students, and that is something he deeply values, he said.

Shaari’s best memory with Rodriguez was at the MD Mentor Program training last year when she made the event very fun, working with the leaders to allow for the most engaging and enjoyable training session. “She understands the importance of being time-efficient and making sure that students stay engaged,” he said.

A few years ago, Rodriguez lost everything in her home to a fire. Two days later, a colleague from the school’s community came to the hotel where she was staying with two shopping bags of new clothes and a check to cover immediate necessities. “This individual took time out of her day to take care of me through her kind gestures and words. I will always carry that memory with me,” she said.

Rodriguez has two grandsons who are a major part of her life and she is looking forward to spending time with them. “Both boys are a big fan of my home cooked meals,” she said.

While she has enjoyed her time at the school immensely, Rodriguez is excited to move on. “I am looking forward to spending time volunteering for organizations that help young children.” Several years ago, she volunteered at the Bereavement Center of Westchester Treehouse, where once a week she worked with young children who had experienced the loss of a parent or sibling. “I found the experience very rewarding and I would love to give my time to helping others,” she said.