The students rushed toward her, hugged her and excitedly chirped about the new “Frozen” movie and what they had for dinner. Having been a teacher for two decades, Carol A. Nesti has grown immune to the irresistible chatter of small children and quickly made sure everyone was sitting around the perimeter of the rug, not putting up with any of her pupils’ attempts at going off on tangents.
“I went to nursing school. I wasn't going to be a teacher. I never ever, ever really wanted to be a teacher,” Nesti recalled, as we sat in her colorful kindergarten classroom. However, an opportunity arose at the now-closed St. Mark Elementary where she worked as a school nurse. She substituted for a teacher who ran the junior high youth group while she was on maternity leave. “The next thing I knew, I was back in school, leaving nursing and going into teaching.”
Having transferred from St. Mark’s 11 years ago when it closed, she now resides in the Lower Mills Campus of Saint John Paul II Catholic Academy (SJPII), where she teaches the delightfully chaotic grade of K-1, the first year of kindergarten.
Lower Mills is one of three campuses at Saint John Paul II, which prides itself on being “the largest accredited Catholic elementary school in New England.” One fallen member of the SJPII group is St. Mark’s, which was closed in 2010 due to economic issues and low enrollment. St. Mark’s carries significance to both Nesti and myself, especially since 13 years ago, she taught me as a kindergartener in the now foreclosed building. With the campus closed after she taught there for a decade, it’s easy to imagine how difficult the transition was to the Lower Mills Campus.
“We were devastated,” she said. “It was a little bit tough transitioning, but I have to say now that I'm here, [I’ve been] here 10 years now. It's like, it's where I'm supposed to be. If I couldn't be at St. Mark’s, this is where I'm supposed to be.”
Nesti feels that it’s gotten hard for kids to be kids in the last 20 years. But it’s not just children that have changed as the years went by. Parents also play a role. “A lot of the kids we have here are from single families, where mum's making $14 an hour and in order to be successful, she has to work double shifts four nights a week.”
It is often the kids that suffer from it. “There are 3-year-olds in here from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” Nesti explained. “And that's really unfair. So when that mom gets that child home, she's not gonna want to discipline, she just wants to be with her child. I can't blame her. But that comes with a cost.”
Nesti is very in tune with the situations of the families that become a part of the Lower Mills community, which helps elevate her skills as a teacher. By taking the time to not only get to know her students but their families as well, she is better able to understand her students. Rather than seeing a student as difficult and unmanageable, she sees them as a kid with a rough family life with different customs.
It is this mindset that creates the most ideal teacher-student relationship that leads to success. A troubled student “is going to make it [in] my class and we're going to adapt to him,” she said.