From Student to Teacher: The Path Back to Mills

Kayla Czaplicki and Lena Eifes

Mrs. Grindal-Keller in high school

Many students overlook the fact that their teachers were once teenagers who attended high school, too. They went through the same classes and the same emotional rollercoaster that we face now as high school students. No matter the school or the decade, it’s all the same. However, a few current faculty members have actually attended and graduated from Lewis Mills. They have faced the same classes and same emotions as all of the current Lewis Mills students, and many of these faculty members have had some of the teachers that we have today, and now work with them. Multiple teachers recently reflected on their personal experiences as a student at LSM, and what it’s like to teach at the school they once attended.

Every student that goes through high school experiences things differently. Fortunately, all of the faculty members interviewed enjoyed their time at Mills. When explaining his experience at Mills, Mr. Paul Gionfriddo, a wellness teacher who graduated in 2011, said, “Well I’m back so it has to be somewhat positive.” During his high school years, Mr. Gionfriddo claimed to be quieter as a freshman and sophomore, not really participating in extracurricular activities. However, he became more social and athletic during his junior and senior year, especially when he became more involved with track and field and made friends with fellow teammates. Mr. Gionfriddo thought of Mills as a positive place to be, especially because he was able to surround himself with positive people. In fact, this positivity was a leading factor in his decision to come back and teach and coach track and field at Mills.

On the other hand, Mrs. Kristen Grindal-Keller, who graduated from Mills in 1985, claimed to always be “very social and active,” while at LSM. She was involved in student government and even became the president of student council. Her experience at Mills was also very positive, especially since she was involved in various activities like Student Council and serving as a class officer. Overall, even through different experiences, Mills remained a positive environment.

Many current faculty members have been teaching at Mills for a while and have even had some of these alumni-turned-teachers as students, making some parts of coming back to teach difficult. Mr. Jared Fellows, from the LSM graduating class of 2012 who now teaches in special education, said that it’s “really weird being on a first name basis with the teachers I had.” He had said it was especially weird for him to be on a first-name basis Mr. Chris Olander, a longtime global studies teacher and Mrs. Barbara Angelicola-Manzolli, who teaches business. Mr. Fellows even said that Mrs. Angelicola-Manzolli yells at him to call her by her first name. Mr. Fellows said it makes his early-career experience quite different from other newer educators.

Mr. Brendan Tewksbury however, has a different experience teaching at Mills. He said that its “not weird” and “usually fun.” Mr. Tewksbury, a social studies teacher, who graduated in 2006 and was always interested in history, thought he would become a teacher somewhere and he just happened to end up back at Mills. Both Mr. Tewksbury and Mr. Fellows graduated from Lewis Mills, however, when it comes to being back here their experiences don’t have a lot in common.

Mr. Fellows in high school.

Not many people think they’re going to end up back at the high school they graduated from. However, Mr. Fellows noted, “life can be a full circle.” Mr. Fellows changed his major three times in college before he realized his love for history. He started in advertising, and then went to broadcast journalism, before switching his major again and ending up back at Mills. Mr. Olander and Mr. Fowler were always an inspiration to him, helping him realize he still wanted to be part of the LSM community. Likewise, Mr. Gionfriddo did not know he wanted to be a teacher until after college when he started working at Lake Garda in special education. He made the decision to come back to Mills so he could coach track and field and teach health and wellness. Neither of these staff members knew they were going to end up teaching or even back at Lewis Mills, yet here they are.

On top of sharing their experiences, the alumni staff members also shared some advice for future graduates. Mrs. Grindal-Keller said, “go on a field trip, try something new,” and noted how “there are so many opportunities in order to prepare for the future.” High school is a great time to try new things and prepare for the future, and Mrs. Grindal-Keller expresses the importance of this.

Furthermore, Mr. Tewksbury says “you are told so many specific things in order to be successful and most of that is meaningless. You should do what you are happy doing, and you will end up making a life out of it.”

Comparably, Mr. Gionfriddo said, “don’t feel like you have to go to college” and “there is nothing wrong with going to community college.” It’s okay to not know what you want to do after high school because life will lead you where you need to be.

It is clear that none of the staff members interviewed knew that they were going to end up back at Lewis Mills. But it does lead to another piece of advice, reaffirmed by Mr. Fellows: “Don’t burn your bridges because you never know when you’re going to need to cross them again.”

These staff members left Lewis Mills thinking their time here was done, yet here they are after crossing the bridges they thought they had moved far beyond after graduating.