By Annabel Grove
When walking into Ms. Dionne’s classroom, you are often faced with a drawing that looks like a colorful, crazy-looking snake on her whiteboard. As it turns out, it is not a snake, but a game that Ms. Dionne has designed to make her students excited about speaking Spanish. Each correct answer gets them closer to the end of the path and to the prize of a Starburst. Her walls are covered with paintings and pictures from her travels. Everything from her room’s décor to her clothing screams “Spain!” creating an authentic classroom atmosphere for her students. Even though Ms. Dionne is from New Jersey, you can tell she feels most at home in the countries to which she has traveled.
“Traveling with my students, whether to New Zealand, Peru or Cuba, fills my heart with joy and is my favorite part of my job,” Ms. Dionne says. “Watching my students use what they learn inside the classroom out in the real world makes me really proud. Travel also enables me to get to know my students on a more personal level and see them thrive outside their comfort zone.”
Ms. Dionne is a prime example of how teachers at SCH can fill many roles. In addition to being a leader of the Global Travel Program, she is also a devoted advisor to ten senior girls.
“Seeing my advisees flourish and go from timid freshmen to grown women ready to rule the world has been such a pleasure. To watch these girls grow and thrive has just been amazing.”
Ms. Dionne and her advisees have grown very close over their four years together. One of her advisees, Audrey Brown, explained that the twice-weekly advisory meetings usually turn into therapy sessions.
“Ms. Dionne is more like a school mom than an advisor,” says Audrey. “She is always making sure I am on top of my school work, but she is still someone I can talk to about anything. She really is the best!”
While Ms. Dionne spends her holiday breaks travelling and her schooldays teaching and advising students, her evenings after school are dedicated to coaching the girls’ cross-country team. Since she is a runner herself, it was a perfect fit. Ms. Dionne is often spotted running down the sidewalk in bright workout clothes with her hair in her famous tight braids, matching her stride with many of her students. Her spirited voice can be heard encouraging her runners to keep the pace.
“I love working with the girls because it’s kind of like travel as you get them outside of the academic work zone and you can push them past their limits. I love health and exercising, so coaching is something that has always interested me.”
While Ms. Dionne’s job seems picturesque, there have been a few bumps in the road, just like in any career. In the past few years, SCH Academy has experienced several turnovers in leadership. These adjustments and changes in staff have led to consequences for the teachers working at the school.
“We went through a little phase of someone who wasn’t supportive of foreign language in general and that was difficult because I didn’t feel like the content I was teaching was valued by my boss. I felt that my job was threatened based on the fact that he didn’t feel that it was necessary, so that was definitely challenging, but it went away and now I’m back to feeling valued. That definitely had an impact, as you never know who is coming in next or what their vision is for your department, the school, the global travel program, or any of the things that I like to do, so it’s always a bit weary in the beginning.”
During her four years at the school, Ms. Dionne has advocated for and improved the language department to help make it what it is today. Interactive games, field trips and travel opportunities encourage students to become dedicated to their language. Even after teaching and participating in all of her activities, including managing Student Council, Ms. Dionne somehow still has time to spend with her husband and twelve-year-old daughter, Nora. When asked to reflect on her time at SCH, she responds: “I wouldn’t have changed a thing.”