Mount Alvernia Academy third grade teacher, Mrs. Lena O’Connell’s close relationship with her mother not only inspired her to be the caring, patient person she is today but formed the foundation of her vocation to teaching. “I came to the U.S. when I was 10 months old. We were from Napoli, Italy — right near Pompeii,” she said. “Growing up, I was the only one who spoke any English so I had to translate everything.” She took her role as a translator for her mother seriously and worked hard in school so that she could help her mother, and she excelled.
But, after moving to a new school district in the fourth grade, she began to struggle. “It was hard to fit in, and I was not doing well. It didn’t help that the teacher,” she paused. “Talk about student/teacher chemistry . . . we just didn’t have it,” she laughed. “I always did well before, but this was not working.”
Her struggles adjusting to a new school and the lack of support she had from her teacher served as a moment of inspiration, rather than defeat. From that moment on, she devoted herself to becoming an educator — a teacher who gave students the support that she wishes she had. “I love teaching. I work hard at it because I know how difficult it can be as a child,” she said with a big smile. “If a child is struggling, I feel as if I have a connection with that student. I have empathy for them because I know what it is like to struggle,” she thought for a moment. “Maybe I should thank that teacher after all!” she burst out laughing.
We are very thankful that Mrs. O’Connell became a teacher. She came to MAA for the first time seven years ago and felt an immediate connection with the school. “I was in awe of the beauty of it all. It was so peaceful,” she said with excitement. “I called my mother while looking out a classroom window and told her that this is where I was meant to be. This was the place.”
She taught at MAA for six years as a third-grade teacher until, a year ago, she had to step away from her role to care for her mother. “I needed to take care of her, and I needed to retire to do that, but she passed away a few months after I retired and all of a sudden my purpose was gone,” she said. “I really missed the kids; they kept me young,” she exclaimed.
As fate would have it, just a year after she stepped away from her third-grade classroom, her job became available once again when Mrs. Nappi moved back to her old kindergarten classroom. “This was the last thing I thought would happen. But I’m thrilled. I don’t know . . . I can’t even begin to say how happy I am,” she said. “MAA is part of me, and I was not ready to give it up. I just remember all the good this place brought me. This place really energizes me!” We are thrilled that Mrs. O’Connell is back in her old classroom and a daily presence in our community once again.