Not surprisingly, great teachers have generally had great teachers of their own — those who inspired them to pursue a career in education. That’s the case for the Reporter’s Person of the Year, Janine Mahoney.
When she was a middle school student at Shoreham-Wading River, her teacher Frank Calderale was among the early advocates of a true middle school concept that provided each student with an adviser and studies coordinated over several disciplines.
Now retired, he was something of a Pied Piper to his students, and that’s what Ms. Mahoney is to her students on Shelter Island.
But Ms. Mahoney was also inspired by a person closer to home, crediting her mother for her energetic commitment to others.
She and her sister always volunteered and taught Sunday school, following the example of their mother, a single mom, who drove a bus for people with disabilities and who enlisted her daughters as aides on the bus.
Whether it’s working during regular school hours as a special education teacher or leading members of the National Honor Society (NHS) in the many charitable works they perform, when Ms. Mahoney has an idea, she need only voice it to find her students lining up to participate.
She’s worked with autistic adults and special education students for most of her adult life. Her consistent focus, and impressive ability to stick with the complex work of making improvement over time, have made her an admirable and effective teacher for people with special needs, some of whom don’t speak or communicate in conventional ways.
She also coordinates the many service projects carried out by the NHS students, including organizing building efforts with Habitat for Humanity and helping staff the Shelter Island 5K Run/Walk to support those with breast cancer and their families.
This past June, for the 10th year running, she participated in the “Relay for Life” to benefit the American Cancer Society. Last year Ms. Mahoney had 19 students signed up from grades 9 through 12 to participate in the all-night relay walk to raise money.
Creating an environment
“Janine’s modus operandi seems to tap more than just the voices of her students,” Mr. Calderale said. “On a broader perspective, she has created a learning environment that resonates beyond the school walls.”
That she opens opportunities outside the classroom to her students “not only brings the outside world and the community into focus, but allows students to go outside their personal perimeters that can sometimes seem confining,” Mr. Calderale said.
Next summer, Ms. Mahoney and fellow teacher Laura Mayo will be using part of their summer break to take a group of students to Spain for a unique international educational experience. The pair are working with the students to raise funds to defray the cost of the trip.
And Ms. Mahoney is working behind the scenes to try to cut the costs of the trip.
“Janine has been a huge help for me since I started here at Shelter Island last year,” Ms. Mayo said. “I know I go to her for anything and she’ll have the answer. She is so knowledgeable about the school and community, it’s amazing,” Ms. Mayo said.
With respect to the Spain trip, Ms. Mayo credits Ms. Mahoney with expert planning, communications and fund-raising skills.
“She makes everything look easy,” Ms. Mayo said. “I’d be totally lost without her while planning this trip. You really can’t ask for a better friend or co-worker.”
Dedication and a helping hand
Ms. Mahoney helps all of the students in the building through her team-teaching efforts and interactions with other teachers, Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik said.
“She’s always willing to go above and beyond,” he said.
Similarly, Brian Becker, president of the Shelter Island Faculty Association, said he’s proud to call her a colleague. “She embodies and exceeds all the attributes that one would expect from an educator,” he said.
And her friend Karen Gibbs summed her up as “a good person who does anything for the kids.”
When Mr. Mahoney and Ms. Gibbs had daughters ready for Girl Scouts but the leader was leaving the Island, they stepped up and took over the troop to assure that not only their daughters but others could continue in a program they cherished.
Lots of parents do that, Ms. Gibbs said. But what’s special is that even after Ms. Mahoney’s daughters moved on from scouting, Ms. Mahoney stayed on as a troop leader.
“She loves the kids and is always there to give a helping hand in whatever is needed,” she said. “The kids love her just as much.”
That’s evident in speaking to members of the National Honor Society.
“She keeps the enthusiasm alive,” Olivia Yeaman said, noting that Ms. Mahoney “inspires a great love of this community.”
“She’s good at keeping us involved,” Sophia Strauss said.
William Garrison called Ms. Mahoney very patient and encouraging while Julia Labrozzi said that thanks to Ms. Mahoney’s leadership, nothing the students tackle by way of community service feels like a struggle.
Thanks to Ms. Mahoney, National Honor Society members get to do activities that wouldn’t be on their radar, Elizabeth Larsen said.
When Ms. Mahoney has an idea for a community service project, not only do her National Honor Society members get onboard, but other students often want to participate, the students said.
For all of what she has given and continues to give to the community and its students, the Reporter is proud to salute Janine Mahoney as Person of the Year.