This Thursday, November 9 at 6 p.m. on NBC 10 news, viewers can watch as Gladstone Elementary School’s third grade teacher, Jessica Soccio is surprised with the Golden Apple award. Two weeks ago, however, Soccio’s students and several of her immediate family members, along with some of the other members of her “fan club” got a sneak peek of the festivities as Soccio was surprised to the point of tears by Channel 10’s Patrice Wood and her entourage, including Commissioner of Education Ken Wagner, RI Teacher of the Year Kristin Hayes-Leite, Jessica Brown from Hasbro, along with David and Margaret Swann, professors at Rhode Island College. Also “in the know” and on hand for the big event were Principal Susan Buonanno, Assistant Principal Keith Croft, and Cranston Public Schools Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse. In addition to Soccio’s own tears, there were many tears of joy coming from Soccio’s students, which according to Wood was a first, and left many in the room feeling emotional as well.
Soccio had no idea that she had been nominated for the award from a Rhode Island College practicum student, Kelly Brady, who had spent time in Soccio’s classroom teaching a lesson recently, and was so struck by her caring and compassion, as well as her love for her students, that she felt the need to nominate her for the award.
“As soon as my class walked in, we felt welcomed,” Brady wrote in her nomination letter to Channel 10. “As we were sitting in the back of the classroom getting ready to get started, a school administrator came in to mention that a new student would be coming in today. Mrs. Soccio’s reaction inspired not only me, but 16 other aspiring teachers. She was so excited and told her entire class. They were all so excited and could not wait to meet him or her. When the little boy walked through the door he was greeted with open arms. She went right over, knelt down and introduced herself. She showed him a desk that was all ready for him and she got him some breakfast.”
Brady and her classmates were impressed by both Soccio’s flexibility on the spot, as she also had a class of college students waiting to teach lessons to her students, and her caring nature which was passed on to her young students. Brady was reminded back to her own childhood, being the new student in class, and wished she’d been welcomed in the same fashion by a teacher and classmates.
She was even more impressed when Soccio announced that she sometimes dances during lessons with her students. She encouraged Brady and her peers to challenge her students even more than they had, reminding them how smart her students were and letting them know that she was certain they could rise to the challenge.
“Right then, I said to myself, ‘Wow. That is the exact kind of teacher I want to be. I want to be challenging but encouraging, and I want my students to learn, but to have fun while doing it.”
Soccio told Wood and her Golden Apple guests through her shock and her tears that she was in teaching as a second career, having come from the world of accounting, and had been inspired to go into teaching by her mother, who had also been a teacher, and had been supported in her endeavor by those around her. It was clear, however, that her students are the number one reason why Soccio loves her job so much, and judging from the reaction from her students that afternoon, the feeling seemed to be quite mutual.
“My students mean the world to me,” she said. “There are so many people that have supported me in this along the way. This is a second career for me, and I now love what I do every day. I love coming to work. I make less money now than I did over 20 years ago, but I just love coming to school every day because of my students.”