Archive for Thursday, February 5, 2004

In a class of her own

February 5, 2004

A Basehor Elementary School fifth-grader, tipped by the periodic visits former students make to her homeroom teacher, keenly observed that "everybody's been in Mrs. Filippi's class."

The student's casual remark may be more correct than she'll ever know.

Most anyone who's attended a class at the elementary school within the last three decades is familiar with Ellen Filippi, a teacher of 37 years, the last 32 spent at Basehor elementary.

"It seems like some student is always telling me 'you had my mommy or you had my daddy in school,'" Filippi said.

In today's educational climate, a time when nearly one of every three teachers resigns and moves into the private sector within three years, Filippi's streak of longevity is unusual.

Soon, it will also come to an end. The teacher so many generations of students have come to know as permanent a staple of the school as its Bluejay mascot is retiring at the end of the semester.

During her career, Ellen Filippi has seen just about everything education has to offer.

She's worked in crumbling schools with limited supplies as well as cozy, homey schools where supplies were abundant. She's been criticized by administrators and parents for handing out too much homework and peppered with questions as to why she handed out too little.

She's beamed with joy for students who went on to have bright futures and suffered a heavy heart for the ones who didn't.

She once had a rambunctious student bring a copperhead snake to class; another liked her so much, he tried to give her his grandmother's diamond ring.

Looking back, Filippi returns to one reason more than any other as incentive for remaining in education for nearly four decades.

"Working with the kids," she said. "It's just the delight of my life. When you see these kids in class and then see them grow up and do the right things, well, it makes you warm all over."

Her former students, a few of whom are now colleagues, speak highly of their teacher and say she'll be missed.

Cindy Pedroza, a learning disabilities teacher at Basehor Elementary School, has worked with Filippi since 1996. Filippi was also her fifth-grade teacher.

"(Her class) was never boring," Pedroza said. "She always challenged every student, whatever level they were working on. You could tell she really cared about kids and wanted to see them do well.

"It showed how big her heart is. She has a huge heart."

Tammy Potts, director for the Basehor-Linwood School District YouthFriends program, can attest to Filippi's caring in the classroom.

"I was a new kid who really didn't fit in and she really worked hard to make sure I made friends," Potts said. "She did that with a lot of kids.

"She knows how to connect with kids and knows how to teach people to connect with kids."

One of Potts' YouthFriends, Michael Hancock, a junior at Basehor-Linwood High School, also a former Filippi student, has worked as a volunteer two or three times a week in Filippi's classroom this school year.

When starting the second semester in January, Hancock requested he again be paired with the veteran teacher.

"She's just real easy to get along with and really cares about the kids," Hancock said.

Filippi said she plans to spend her retirement gardening or "just falling out of bed whenever I want to."

Stepping away from something she's been involved in for so long won't be easy, and Filippi doesn't plan to just rip away suddenly. Next year, she plans to volunteer at the school a few days a week.

"You have to sort of ease out," she said. "I'll come in when they need me but I'm going to try and slowly work my way out of school."

Before she does, though, you can bet on one thing. Plenty of former students will drop by and visit the teacher they recall so profoundly before she goes.

"It just makes you feel good when they liked you enough to come back," Filippi said.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.