• Gina Matarazzo

When It's the Last, Last Day of School

The last day of school is always full of emotion. We are happy that we are done with writing lesson plans and grading tests for a while. We are eager to start that much-anticipated Summer break finally. We are sad to say goodbye to our students, who we have formed a bond with over the last ten months. But when it’s the last, last day of school, those emotions are more robust. We are devastated that we no longer have our school—our second home. We are worried about our future and the future of our students—where do we go from here? We are confused as to why we are in the position we are in. The list of emotions can go on and on, and right now, it is for the Monsignor McHugh community.

In 1958, Reverend Monsignor Connell McHugh, who was the pastor of the former St. Mary of the Mount Church in Mount Pocono PA, began planning for a Catholic School located in the Poconos. With the establishment of many Catholic communities in the area, it was only fitting for a Catholic school to be constructed. By 1959, construction for an elementary and secondary school began on a 40-acre site situated in Cresco, PA. In May 1960, the cornerstone was laid, and on September 18, 1961, Pocono Central Catholic opened its doors to 402 students. Msgr. McHugh saw his school thrive for ten years before his passing in 1971. The bishop at that time, Bishop McCormick, renamed the school after the Monsignor because of his handwork and dedication to the school. The school would continue as both an elementary and a secondary school for the next sixteen years. In May 1987, it was announced that, due to declining enrollment, the high school was shutting down. Monsignor McHugh School officially became a K-8 elementary school. By 1989, enrollment was high. There were three Kindergarten classes, and Grades One to Three were double-tracked (meaning there were two classes for each grade). The school was doing well. Many children were enrolling, and the classrooms were filled.

My ‘journey’ at Msgr. McHugh School began in 1996. I was going int oFirst Grade. My family had just moved here from Queens, New York, and my parents were looking for a school to enroll me in. I had attended a Catholic school in New York, and my parents are both products of Catholic education. So, it was only fitting that I continue my education in a Catholic school. I remember the day I toured Monsignor McHugh, My Dad was working, so it was just my Mom and I. We met with the principal, Sister Rosemarie, and she gave my Mom and I a thorough tour of the school. I remember thinking it was the most wonderful school because they served soft pretzels on Wednesdays! My Mom was much impressed with the school, and I was officially enrolled. I made a lot of memories here; some good, some not good, but not all school years are perfect. My First Grade teacher was tough on my class, but that stern attitude reinforced that actions have consequences (I had her again for Third Grade, too!). My Second Grade teacher is the reason why I have perfected my handwriting. I wanted to prove that it wouldn’t always be sloppy! My Fourth Grade teacher was terrific and was my inspiration to pursue a path in education (I was lucky enough to have her again when I was in Eighth Grade!). My Fifth Grade teacher always knew how to make class fun. My Middle School teachers pushed the students to do their best and would never accept mediocre work.—especially my Sixth Grade English teacher. Her ability to see the potential in her students and help them to bring it out is why I have a love of writing today. Even though it was tough at times, it paid off. I learned so much from the teachers I had and can’t imagine what my educational experience would have been like had my parents sent me elsewhere. In 2003, I graduated and continued my Catholic education at Notre Dame.

After graduating from college, teaching jobs were hard to find. My first job was in an office, and it was nice. There were five of us, and I had known my boss for many years before I started working for her. We felt like a family. In June 2017, I had the opportunity to apply for a teaching job at Monsignor McHugh School. I did it, but I was afraid of leaving that family-life feel of my current job. When I was hired, I was ecstatic; I was going to be the new Fourth Grade teacher. I was also afraid that I had made the wrong choice. I look back now and am so glad I accepted that position. My teaching experience here was terrific. My first year, ah, kind of rough on many levels, but with the support from coworkers, you can make it through those turbulent times. I was blessed with great students, and together we made so many great memories. I can’t imagine spending my first teaching years in any other school. Plus, teaching alongside one of the educators I had when I was a student is quite amazing. Not many teachers can say they have done that!

During one of my days cleaning out my classroom, I decided to capture some of the school’s images. Pictures can be powerful, and the photos I captured honestly tell a compelling story. Last Summer, I was taking a photography class. For one of the classes, we decided to meet at a local abandoned location. The goal was to capture some images of the resort for a photo contest a local college was having. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to go. After much thinking, I decided to, and I am glad I did. Going to this place and seeing it like it once was was quite amazing. It gave me a chill, but it also gave me a feeling of amazement. I was in a place that was still as it was when the doors shut. It’s like I went back in time. Now, I do not have a connection to this place, which maybe was why I found it okay to be there. There was no emotional attachment, so when I explored and photographed it, I did it like I would do any other place I wanted to capture. It was different when I captured these images of Monsignor McHugh. I got the same feeling. I felt as if I was back in time, even though that time was not long ago.

I got the same chill, but I also felt sadness. The sadness came because, this time, I do have an emotional attachment to the place I was exploring and capturing. Life was put on pause when we left in March. We didn’t know that we would never be back this school year or ever. Seeing the halls and classrooms bare and full of trash bags is saddening. Of course, every June, this happens when we clean out our classrooms. But knowing that the classrooms will never be filled with students again or the hallways adorned with work, is heartbreaking. One of my coworkers said, closing a school gives you the same feeling as when someone dies.

For me, Monsignor McHugh wasn’t just the school where I taught; it was also the school where I was taught. So, being here when it shuts its doors for good is emotional on so many levels. They say a house isn’t home just because it has four walls and a roof. It’s the people inside the house that make it a home. The same is true for a school. A school isn’t a school just because it has a gym or a cafeteria or classrooms. A school is a school because of the people inside—the people who put their heart and soul into what they do. The people who make their students and staff feel extraordinary. The people who make you feel like you’re a family. I can honestly say that the people I worked with put their hearts and souls into our school and made it what it was. They made us feel like we were a family.

I know these words cannot reopen a school, but that’s not why they were written. They were written to tell a story about the amazing and unique school this was. If you were lucky enough to have experienced it, you know what I mean. I mean, I haven’t heard of any other administrator traveling to her staff’s homes to deliver flowers for Easter or donuts for Teacher Appreciation Week! I honestly feel I will never find another community like this, and I will always be grateful for my experiences here. One thing I will always take from Monsignor McHugh School is that what you do matters, and if you put your heart and soul into something, it does matter, and people notice.

To all the faculty and staff, students and parents, who made Monsignor McHugh School feel like a home when I was there as a student and when I returned as a teacher—- thank you, what you did mattered.

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