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After 38 years, fourth-grade teacher embraces final day
By MICHELE MILLER
Published May 24, 2007
NEW PORT RICHEY - Jan Cocuzzi started her last day of school at Anclote Elementary as she had so many times before -by sharing a few words of wisdom from one of the small daily reading books she always keeps handy.
"Teaching is an act that, when done well, fully occupies the present moment, but also always with an eye on the future, " she read aloud to her colleagues before the buses rolled up and her fourth-grade students ambled in.
The quote, attributed to David T. Hansen, seemed a perfect sendoff.
"She's always doing little things like that - especially when you're feeling down or things are a little crazy around here. It just makes your day, " said Linda Rogers, the second-grade teacher who on Wednesday became the keeper of Cocuzzi's daily reading books.
It's a passing of the torch of sorts as Cocuzzi, 65, retires after a 38-year career. A former nun who first came from Capitola, Italy, as a student, she taught in Ohio before landing in New Port Richey in 1976. She is one of 45 Pasco teachers and instructional employees who will pack up their classrooms for the last time Friday.
So what's in her future?
An Alaskan cruise.
Straightening up the house.
Volunteering at St. Luke's Cataract and Laser Institute.
And spending Sundays watching Tampa Bay Bucs games on the 10-yard-line with fellow season ticket holder Diane Gwathney, the school's guidance secretary.
On Wednesday, she gave away the remains of the Bucs paraphernalia she had plastered throughout her classroom; collected kudos, gifts and cards; and tended to that last-day-of-school stint one last time. That meant relaxing the rules about those hand-held video games and doling out ice cream sundaes, extra recess and hugs and tearful goodbyes to her students and a well-loved career.
"It's time, " Cocuzzi said with a smile even as her eyes welled. "It's time for me to go."
A long way from start
Cocuzzi hasn't lost her Italian accent, but she has come a long way since that first day teaching third grade to 37 students at St. Anthony's Catholic School in Youngstown, Ohio.
"I was more scared than they were. There they were, sitting in a straight line, their hands folded on their desk. It was wonderful. Now look how things have changed, " she said, sweeping her arm across the classroom where her students' desks are arranged in a circle.
"I've seen a lot of changes, " she said. "I remember when there was one computer in the whole school. The curriculum has changed; the students, the parents have all changed."
Even so, Cocuzzi was known for having a steady, strong and calming command of her classroom and delighting in the moments she could "see the light go on" in her students' heads.
"She's not a mean teacher, but she's strict, " said fourth-grader Tyler Hardeman, as he and fellow classmates wolfed down ice cream sundaes.
"She's a very giving person. And I think it's good that she's strict so we can get our work done, " piped in classmate Makayla Maddox.
"She's a disciplinarian with a nurturing style, " said reading specialist Margaret Flanders. "She knows the curriculum, she knows the children. She follows through with everything."
Harsh words for FCAT
Cocuzzi is no fan of the FCAT and isn't afraid to say so. "Everybody's under pressure - the administration, the county office - because money is attached to it, " she said. "The politicians make these rules, but we're dealing with these children. They don't know what we have in front of us."
Still, she embraced Continuous Progress - where students of different grades learn together in one pod - and the newly implemented Learning Focused Strategies.
"We're going to miss her, " said Anclote principal Carole Baird. "She's a team player. She has a great sense of humor, but she's not an easy teacher. She has high expectations."
For herself as well as her students.
"I have always wanted to instill in the children a love for learning and to practice self control, to be helpful, kind, tolerant, " Cocuzzi said. "I always tell my students, 'You don't need me. You are responsible for yourself. You know what is right and wrong. You know what to do.' "
Michele Miller can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6251 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext 6251. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.