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#PREPpeople: Rachel Fondell

#PREPpeople is one in an occasional series of snapshots spotlighting the people of St. John's Prep.

Hometown: Leeds Point, New Jersey
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in History and Elementary Education; Master’s Degree in Middle School Education with a social studies concentration
Years at St. John’s: 8 years
Subject: Grade 6 Humanities

What brought you to St. John’s? The better question is who? High School English teacher, Mr. Pawlyk! While plans to open the Middle School were just beginning to take shape, I had the pleasure of having Mr. Pawlyk’s daughter in class. Mr. Pawlyk gave me the inside scoop about the exciting new opportunities at St. John’s and spoke very highly of those involved in kick-starting the program. Of course, it made the decision even easier to have Mr. Fondell already working here. We’re both so glad to be part of this community. 

Describe a teacher who inspired you growing up: I had a biology and history teacher (it was a small school) who wore pretty much the same three outfits every week. One was a tan knee-length t-shirt dress with giraffes on it. Her hair was chopped short, and she wore thick-lensed circular glasses. She was quirky. And you didn’t want to get on her bad side. But she was also just a wizard in the classroom. Her storytelling skills were bar none and she would illustrate her epic accounts of Napoleon’s escapades with the funniest comic-style illustrations.

I still remember some of the “aha” moments I had in her classes. She gave up her time after school to volunteer at events and help with set design for plays and prom. She exuded creativity and ingenuity in a way that was contagious. I hope that some of my teaching now resembles hers. We take lots of “doodle notes” in social studies, and in general, I strive to bring creativity and a similar sense of wonder into the classroom. 

What's your favorite thing about teaching? Favorite thing about teaching at the Prep? “My students!” is supposed to be my unequivocal answer here, and I do care very much about them. They are the reason that I work as hard as I do. I cherish the opportunity to witness them sharing their talents and cultivating their passions. In terms of choosing teaching as a profession though, I knew I’d need a job that let me do something a little different every day. Reading, learning, exploring, wondering, problem-solving–those are the kinds of activities I want to engage with at work. Teaching at the Prep has given me so much flexibility in designing and implementing a rich curriculum. The resources available to students and faculty are outstanding. 

Have you always been a teacher? If you could do anything other than teach, what would you do? I decided to be a teacher when I was in the third grade. Granted, I didn’t know many other jobs at that time, but I’m glad it’s where I’ve ended up. If I wasn’t teaching, I’d devote more time to developing my own artwork and expanding my role as a painting instructor at Slow River Studio in Topsfield. 

What's one of the funniest, most touching, or most memorable moments you've witnessed in the classroom? The most memorable moments are probably not meant for public sharing. Middle school students do and say some wild things! I’ll safeguard their privacy. My favorite student quote about me though: “Mrs. Fondell can be scary… but like, the kind of scary that makes you a better person.” At the end of what will hopefully be a long career here, I would like that printed on a commemorative bench, please! 

What’s a fun fact, hidden talent, or hobby you have that most people wouldn’t know about? It’s not very hidden, but I have started taking my pursuit of fine art painting more seriously in the past few years. I work in acrylics, oils, and gouache. Last summer, I had the privilege of running an oil painting camp for EAGLES/EDGE, so it may be that there are more ways for me to bring that side of myself to St. John’s.

Extra fun fact: I’m left-handed. I like making homemade sushi. I am an absolutely terrible gardener. 

If you could describe SJP in one word, what would it be and why? Community. I feel incredibly fortunate to work with so many amazing people. I count several colleagues among my closest friends. The supportive and caring environment here is one of the primary reasons that Mr. Fondell and I have chosen to stay at St. John’s.