Above: Madame Varone (aka Julie) with some of her students at the school prom in May. Submitted photo
The school year is over as of Friday for students, teachers and staff, but for several teachers and secretaries, it will be their final last day of school – they are retiring.
Perhaps the teacher with the longest tenure and largest fan base is Julie (“Madame”) Varone, French teacher extraordinaire at East Greenwich High School since 1989. Even if you didn’t take French, you knew Madame Varone. She was the one in her doorway saying hello to students on their way to their next class. And for some students, such as German exchange student Moritz Wargalla (2007-08), she was a lifeline. “Madame Varone is the perfect teacher,” he wrote via What’s App, “funny without being ridiculous, warm without being obtrusive, and above all encouraging. She made my arrival at EGHS much easier!”
“Madame Varone was a motherly figure to not only the students in her class but the entire school,” wrote Emily Juliet via email. “She made our French class feel like a family and frequently threw parties to celebrate French holidays and further immerse her students in the culture. She also had the best jokes and wasn’t afraid to roast her students (all with love, of course). I graduated in 2017 and still think about her class all the time!”
Julia Erickson wrote, “I’m one of Madame Varone’s current students. I’m a junior, and I’m devastated that we’ll be without her for senior year, but I’m so happy we’ve been with her for as long as we have. She’s the most energetic teacher in the school, and always puts her all into teaching. Whether that be making funny noises, acting something out, or drawing on the board, (even though elle n’est pas une artiste), she’s not afraid of going the extra mile to make sure we understand. Madame also goes above and beyond to make sure we have fun…. For some people in our class, Madame is the only reason they take French. For others, like me, she’s the reason I’ve fostered such a love for it. I’m going to continue studying it, and though I’ll miss her so much, I’m so grateful for the impact she’s had on me. Thank you!”
Former student Maddie Curnow (Class of 2021) wrote, “I found comfort, encouragement, and empathy during my time at East Greenwich High School in the form of Madame Varone. Those lucky enough to sit in her classroom, let alone for four years, know firsthand the passion she fosters. Receptive and respectful, Madame Varone gifted me both French skills and invaluable lessons on what it means to be compassionate. Even students who never stepped into her classroom and simply experienced her presence in the halls can testify to her warmth. Merci, Madame, you have changed so many lives for the better!”
Remarkably, Varone said she was never planning to be a teacher, but it was fun. “It’s been a great run, with so many awesome students/colleagues/memories, however it is clearly time to move on and find my joie de vivre elsewhere.
EGHS secretary Sherry Mong is another one of those people who seem to have a connection to many, many students. During her time in EG schools, she worked at Eldredge, then the high school, then back at Eldredge and then, for the past many years, in the EGHS guidance department.
“I’m going to miss the kids overall,” Mong said, “and I loved the staff that I’ve worked with. I’ve been blessed in all the buildings and with the principals.”
She and her husband, Don (retired EGPD), plan to hit the road with Sherry’s new-found freedom. Big scuba divers, look for them off the Florida Keys next winter.
The Special Education Department is taking some big hits this year, with the retirement of vaunted adaptive PE teacher Lisa McKay (celebrated HERE), department chair Mary Ellen Flanagan (thanks for your help!), and EGHS special education teacher Fran Healy.
Healy’s quiet strength and dedication to teenagers with developmental disabilities has been nothing less than monumental for the students and families under her care. (Full disclosure: our youngest child, James, was lucky enough to be in her class for five years.)
Healy’s path to East Greenwich was a little more circuitous than some others – when she graduated from Rhode Island College in 1976 (with a plan to teach secondary English), there were no teaching jobs to be had. She substituted a lot, she said, and even found herself teaching lawn care application at one point. Eventually, she landed at the Cornerstone School, a school for students with significant disabilities in Cranston. But she caught the attention of Carol Brown, then head of special education for East Greenwich, and Brown urged her to apply for an opening in 2004.
Healy created a life skills curriculum for her students and she worked hard to get them work experience during their final years in the district. Every summer, Healy ran the extended school year (ESY) program for the older students, wanting to provide continuity for them. Last summer she realized she needed more than just a two-week break between ESY and the new school year, and she also decided it was time for some new – younger – blood in the department.
Fran always went the distance and then some, shepherding many a parent (my husband and me among them) through the process where our children were now part of the adult system for people with disabilities. That’s scary stuff, but she always had our backs. Thank you, Fran. Enjoy your grandchildren!
Here’s the full list of this year’s retirees. Good luck to you all!
Patricia Balles – Secretary, EGHS
Bonnie Correira – Paraeducator, Eldredge
Andrea Ferreira – Paraeducator, Meadowbrook
Mary Ellen Flannagan – Special Education Department Chair, Cole and EGHS
Fran Healy – Special educator, EGHS
Lisa McKay – Adaptive Physical Educator, District
Sherry Mong – Secretary, EGHS
Michelle Rinn – Teacher, Frenchtown
Roberta Serby – Teacher, Frenchtown
Maria Tavorozzi – Paraeduator, Hanaford
Susan Trudeau – Paraeducator, Eldredge
Vivian Whitcomb – Art teacher, Eldredge and Hanaford
Julie Varone – French teacher, EGHS