Ric Saborio Taught People How to Live

by | Dec 31, 2021

Editor’s Note: This story has been added to since it was originally posted.

Teachers can leave a strong mark on those they encounter in the world, some teachers more than others. Ric Saborio was one of those teachers. His death Dec. 28 sent reverberations through the East Greenwich community, where he lived and taught, even though he hadn’t taught in nine years. Ric’s teaching career was cut short in 2012, when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Surgery and treatment for the tumor caused memory and other cognitive difficulties so a return to the classroom was not possible. 

That was a tragedy for all those who had loved working alongside him and for all the children who would never know the magic that was Mr. Saborio. But Ric just kept being Ric – volunteering with cancer patients at Kent Hospital and in the library at Eldredge Elementary, where he last taught (most of his teaching years were spent at Hanaford Elementary); and being a caring and compassionate friend, husband to Gail, and father to Bella.

So, when we got word of Ric’s death, we asked for people to tell us what made him special. The outpouring was immediate and heartfelt. We include remembrances here and invite you to add your own in the comments section. And, here’s a link to a video from 2007-08 meant to show parents what their children would be doing in school that year.

Finding acceptance and help in Mr. Saborio’s class

Mr. Sabario was one of the teachers who saw the best in everyone, and the best in me. I have ADHD, and I struggled throughout school, but Mr. Sabario had special ed. training. He treated me with extra attention. He taught the sixth grade at Hanaford Elementary. For positive reinforcement, he handed out “bug bucks” whenever students completed their homework. At the end of the term, we would have an auction for all kinds of things, candy, small toys, items he had throughout the room. His desk was always filled with knick-knacks. Ric collected every known variety of Pez dispenser. He was a unique kind of guy, as he drove an Volkswagen Beetle. He even had a green mini one on his desk. Every day in class he would give my head/hair a lucky rub. He had even asked if it was okay to do so after the first time. I always was uncomfortable about my Chinese hair, how straight and strong it was, as it would stick up omnidirectional. One day, I put some styling gel in it to give it more “body.” He touched my hair and dramatically recoiled saying “ewww”! The first year after graduating from high school, I went back to see Ric, and he was still teaching. I was already taller than him at this point and we caught up very briefly after he finished class. I will miss him as he was kind, quirky, generous and positive – a man dedicated to the craft of teaching. – Martin Tam

Mr. Saborio was hired as a special education teacher at Hanaford, then switched to sixth grade

Mr. Saborio was hands down the most memorable teacher I had in EG (which says a lot since I had so many wonderful teachers). I was a student in his first class at Hanaford in 1999-2000. I look back fondly on my time in sixth grade with Mr. Saborio and my classmates. It’s hard to put into words just what it meant to be in his class. It was magical. Learning was fun, exciting, an adventure. There was never a dull moment in Mr. Saborio’s class, no matter the subject. We were all active participants in our education and it was hands on, experimental. We learned about world events, debated social justice issues, conducted science experiments, discussed history and researched our ancestors (we got to go to Ellis Island!). We cultivated lifelong friendships. Mr. Saborio kept us on our toes and played jokes on us. He was real. He played basketball with us at recess. He incentivized us with “bug bucks,” which we got to redeem later in the year. I still have the Michael Jordan book he gifted me. My memories of his class are so vivid even after all these years. He created a wonderful learning environment and he supported us. There is no doubt that he lives on in all of his students, that he made us better people as a result of his influence. I feel incredibly grateful to have his handprint on my life. Sending all my love and sympathies to his family, students, and colleagues. – Anna Greeley

Forging an even tighter bond through their shared diagnosis

Gail and Ric Saborio with Noelle Patenaude Johnson at her wedding.

Mr. Saborio was my sixth grade teacher. He was amazing. I had years of struggling in school and he was the one that got me the help and accommodations that I needed to be successful. I cannot thank him enough for all the hard work and dedication to helping his students. Later in life, we reconnected when he was diagnosed with his brain tumor. I had been diagnosed with a brain tumor when I was 16. Even though I was a former student he made it a point to support me and show me as much love as when I was in his classroom. Once we reconnected after his diagnosis, we spent many a day talking about our shared memory loss, hair loss, and the different “funny” comments people make about brain tumors. I will remember his laugh and sense of humor. He was someone who taught me that it is OK to laugh at yourself and to not take everything so seriously. He always had a positive outlook and I will hold him in my heart. – Noelle Patenaude Johnson

Friends for almost 25 years

I can talk about Ric forever…. Ric was the teacher that you would want your own children to have as their educator. Ric truly appreciated every single day that he walked this earth; he enjoyed meeting new people, learning something new each day, and had an incredible love of music and arts in general. He saw the good in everyone, even when things seemed to point in the other direction. Ric was fiercely devoted to his family and to his friends, and he had the most eclectic group of friends compared to anyone that I have ever met. He honored and respected diversity; he was a true champion for inclusion and advocate for his students (and all people). I feel  blessed and am  forever grateful that he was a part of my life for almost 25 years. – Dom Giusti, principal of Meadowbrook Farms Elementary and former colleague of Ric’s. Here’s a video clip from Dom’s comments about Ric upon his retirement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=157Q10Gdd5A

Playing tricks on each other, inspiring each other, making each other laugh

A night out with school friends. From left, Dom Giusti, Christine Uhrin, Ric Saborio, Pam Testoni, Peggy Chace.

He was just one in a million. He had the best outlook on life. He absolutely loved teaching. He had gotten into it a little later in life and was just so happy to be there – he poured his heart and soul into it. He made teaching fun every single day. 

He would make the most fabulous lunches. You’ve got 25 minutes max for lunch during the school day. He would come in with a frying pan, butter, spatula, he would cook up a steak sandwich or a cheeseburger and we would all be drooling. He would get it all done and be back in class in time for the start of the afternoon.

When he got sick, I had also gotten sick (with depression). The two of us were out of work and we couldn’t remember a thing. We would get lost going to lunch. We spent so much time together and got closer. Even when he got sick, he just loved life. He just took it in stride. He got a vanity plate [for that beloved Beetle] that said “Forget” because he couldn’t remember anything! I never got together with him and didn’t wind up laughing, no matter what. I’m so glad that I knew him and I got to be his friend. – Pam St. Ours Testoni taught and had a blast with Ric at Hanaford.

A student of Ric’s at Hanaford and is now a teacher herself

I had Mr. Saborio in sixth grade at Hanaford Elementary School, and now interestingly enough, I am a fifth grade teacher in his former classroom at Eldredge Elementary School. 

Mr. Saborio was by far the most passionate, kind, and patient man and teacher I had ever met. One detail I remember vividly was when I was his sixth grade student, he and I would have weekly, in-depth discussions about “American Idol” when it was airing. Although these conversations would seem minor to some, this interaction was something I looked forward to every week! He made me feel important, and like my opinion mattered, and that is something truly special. 

Prior to the pandemic, Mr. Saborio would come into my class at Eldredge each year to help with the Toothpick Bridge Construction Project, as well as the annual “Diaper Debate” we would have. These are two projects that Mr. Saborio started as a teacher in East Greenwich, and we will most certainly be carrying them on. His passion and kind interactions with students was always something I would observe and admire about him. He inspired me as well as some of my peers from East Greenwich to pursue teaching. 

I cannot say enough of how amazing of a man and teacher he was. I send his family all of my sincerest condolences. – Devon Iannuccilli Chavez, a fifth grade teacher at Eldredge Elementary

Teacher, principal, friend

Ric was a wonderful person. I was lucky enough to have known him for about 20 years. We were both teaching sixth grade and even though I was at Eldredge and he was at Hanaford, we would have meetings with both schools before students transitioned over to what was the old Jr. High. I also worked with him at Hanaford when I was the principal there and was then fortunate to be his teaching partner when I returned to teaching in the 2011-12 school year. We both taught grade 5 at Eldredge that year. Ric was one of those teachers that arrived to school early, stayed late, put hours into lesson plans, loved the kids, worked hard and had fun doing what he loved the most – teaching.  He was an outstanding teacher!  He always went the extra mile for his students and he was a collaborative teacher.  We spent so much time before and after school planning lessons together.  He made me a better teacher. It was so nice having him next door to me . . . I’ll always remember us popping into each other’s classrooms. He would always play such great music after school . . . and we laughed a lot. He brought light, laughter, and enthusiasm to our work. Being a great teacher was so important to him. He even continued to volunteer at school and came into my classroom at times, even after he officially retired. He became a wonderful friend over the years and I was so lucky to keep in touch with him. I will miss him tremendously. – Chris Uhrin, teacher at Eldredge

‘Most memorable teacher’

I had him as my 6th grade teacher in his very first year at Hanaford Elementary and to this day he is my most memorable teacher. That was 1999. He loved all the weird faces I made and would have me stand in front of the class making faces in exchange for “bug bucks” (currency for being awesome students that we could exchange for toys or candy). He loved the color green and his Volkswagen Beetle (also green). He had all these toys on his desk and such a quirky always-positive attitude. I’ll never forget him. Students will be missing out on an amazing and unforgettable mentor. He had such an impact on me and my family. My younger brother Nicholas and our youngest sister Marissa all had him as their teacher after me and we really got to know and love him. I’m so sorry for this loss and hope his family and close friends know what an impact he had on his students and community. I’m very lucky to be where I am in life, and I know he had something to do with my success. – Michaella E. Marzullo, MS, PA-C

Colleague at both Hanaford and Eldredge

Ric and I worked together at Hanaford for nine years and we both came over to Eldredge the same year, in August 2011. He was wonderful to collaborate with and we have remained friends. In January 2019 he asked if I could use help in the library and of course I said yes! He would come in once or twice a week to work with the fifth graders. He had lost the ability to alphabetize or shelf items, but he never lost the ability to connect with kids. With his calm yet fun demeanor, he was a hit! He would sometimes have to miss a week or more because of illness or appointments and the kids would want to know where he was. 

He also went into the fifth grade classes to assist the current teachers with the breaking of the bridges project, one that he helped create and which continues to this day. Additionally he mentored a boy that year who was going through a difficult time. He was so happy to still be involved in teaching in any way and to just be around people. He continued volunteering with me right up until COVID hit and then it wasn’t possible anymore which saddened both of us. – Peggy Chace, library media specialist at Eldredge

Suddenly school didn’t seem terrible

I always remember that he was one of my favorite teachers. I had so many wonderful teachers, but he stood out among them all. It’s really hard to pick a favorite moment with him; every single day was special. I remember the process of writing and performing our class play, something his class did every year. It was our responsibility as a class to come up with each scene. He helped us channel our creativity and ideas into something unique that we all loved being a part of. Everyone worked together to write our own magic act, choreograph our own dance to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” and act out a scene from Sponge Bob, all to demonstrate the theme of  “Character Counts.”

I didn’t have a great experience the year before and I didn’t always enjoy going to school. He turned that around for me. He always joked around with us, but he also truly cared. He had the most interesting stories and used his own experiences to help us learn. I feel so lucky to have been one of his students. He made every day memorable in one way or another. His impact on me was profound, and has stayed with me far beyond his sixth grade classroom. – Alexandra Hatch

A rare teacher who engaged each student
Mr. Saborio was a rare teacher who engaged with each student, building us up with lessons that were both fun and that would develop life-long skills. Of any grade-school teacher, I remember what I learned from his class the most. In his sixth grade class, Mr. Saborio had the entire class collaborate to write, produce, and perform a play on a historical topic we selected. This and other assignments had a lasting impact on me, showing students where we excelled and pushing us to grow individually. He had a rare gift for making his class fun for all students. I have more lasting memories of Mr. Saborio‘s class than I do of most from my entire education. He connected with each student as individuals, and he had a unique teaching approach that was engaging and pushed us to develop life-long skills like public speaking and thinking creatively to tackle challenges.  – Laura Shubel Murdock

May he rest easily and groovily

Justin Riccio and Ric Saborio at the Hanaford Field Day in Spring 2012. I was in the 5th grade and he had just transferred to Eldridge Elementary.

I was in the last fourth grade class of his at Hanaford Elementary School in East Greenwich. His PEZ collection, vintage toys, and bright graphic posters drew me in like a kid in a candy store. What made him such a significant teacher was his ability to connect to us. As a mid-40 year old man, it’s not an easily established skill being able to relate to a 10-year old student. However, he always found a way. Whether it was learning about electricity through building tiny model houses, to racing cars made out of K’nex. Ric always knew how to make sure the class was engaged, learning, but most of all, having fun. He was a light in this community. When he fell ill, so did our town. We did not only lose an educator in this community, we lost a bright and loving soul. May he rest easily and groovily. I hope wherever he might be, he has his little orange VW bug with him. – Justin Riccio

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3 Comments

  1. Robin Kasparian

    I met Ric when he worked at Hanaford School and I was a paraprofessional in his class. Ric never ceased to amaze me with his positive attitude, creativity, compassion for his students, fun personality, kindness, and uniqueness. I learned so much from him and so did his students. He not only taught lessons from his curriculum but he taught his students many life lessons as well. Every time I left his class, I felt inspired and energized just like his students. I was so impressed with his Toothpick Bridge Construction Project. It was such an impressive project. Not only did the students have to build the strongest bridge they could out of toothpicks but each student on every team was assigned a real-life job. Their jobs included architectural designer, accountant, engineer, construction worker, etc. This lesson taught his students about real-life responsibility and they had fun doing it. He made learning fun and every student felt his love for his craft.

    There were so many fun little memories that pop into my head about Ric… When his daughter, Bella, came for a visit to his class and she was hiding under his desk and then, popped out to surprise him. When he baked French fries in the teacher’s lounge for lunch and everyone was so impressed. He had a stereo system set up in his room to play music during his prep time. He had a huge collection of Pez toys lined up on a shelf in his room. Who could forget his orange VW Bug? When you saw it on the road, you knew who was coming. Ric was funny and always had a wonderful outlook on life. He loved his family, friends, and students. When I saw him in a grocery store after his brain tumor diagnosis, he even joked about it then. When Ric passed away, the Earth lost an angel. If we can learn anything from Ric, it is to be grateful for what we have and not harp on what ails us. Try your best to enjoy life and have fun while living it. Rest in Peace, my friend.

    Reply
  2. Kim balkcom

    We first met the Saborio family through our children ‘s daycare when Bella and Bruno were three years old – and the rest is history! Where to begin with all of the great memories?

    Before the days when music was at our fingertips – Ric would show up with a homemade “Ric’s Mix” CD every time we hosted one of our many get togethers. Their annual “Bella’s Birthday by Day – Turned Grown-up Party by Night” was an end of the summer tradition and, over the years, we got to meet more of their ever-expanding group of friends.

    Because Ric was our nephew, Jake’s, sixth grade teacher – we were very familiar with his stellar reputation as an educator, mentor and role model – and every single time a student would learn that our families were friends – you could tell how starstruck they were – as if we were talking about their favorite actor or sports hero – he was THAT popular!

    It wasn’t just Ric himself that was magnetic. It was also evident in his connection with Gail, his soulmate, and his adoration for Bella. Over the years our two families remained tight through thick and thin, celebrated many holidays and milestones together and shared so much laughter…

    Ric’s sunny disposition never faded and if he had one last lesson to teach, he would surely encourage all of us to always focus on the positive and be able to laugh at ourselves.

    The Balkcom family loves and misses you, our friend – Riiiiiiiicccccc!!!

    Reply
  3. Caroline Bateson

    I had Mr. Saborio for a couple subjects in 2000- I had Mr. Giusti who was across the hall, also a fantastic educator. 6th Grade at Hanaford is by far my most memorable year in elementary school. It was fun, challenging, hands on, interactive, innovative, social…all the things you would want as a child. I struggled academically the year before and I made a complete turn around when I entered the 6th grade. We sang, we danced, we learned tech skills..it was so FUN. Even throughout my years in the EG public school system, I would always get excited to see that green punch buggy on the EG roads…it always put a smile on my face.

    I followed a very similar path as Mr. Saborio and I cannot help but think it was not a coincidence. After graduating EGHS in ’07, I went to college and followed my childhood dream of pursuing musical theater. Theater was something that Mr. Saborio and my 6th grade teachers took an interest in, just as a young 12 year old girl. I was encouraged and felt seen. Years later, when Mr. Saborio stopped directing the Hanaford plays, I took over and directed for a couple years…I knew I had big shoes to fill! I eventually went back to school and am now an elementary teacher.

    Thank you Mr. Saborio for being one of the best rolemodels and teachers I have ever had. Clearly, your kindess, teaching, and love for the arts stuck with me all of these years. You and that entire 6th grade team (2000) instilled the belief in me that a dream is never too big to chase. I strive to be an educator like you and am forever grateful for your kindness and ability to share the arts in everyday learning. You were a light. My prayers go out to your friends and family. You will be missed.

    Caroline Bateson Tate

    Reply

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