A special time of year

Members of Tina Pierandozzi’s life skills class at Sharswood School beat back against the cold by flashing wide smiles outside Engine 53.

Photo provided by Tina Pierandozzi

In her role as a life skills teacher at George W. Sharswood School, Tina Pierandozzi loves building the self-esteem of the 18 third- through fifth-graders in her care. The Lower Moyamensing resident also helps the intellectually disabled youths to foster an attitude of gratitude toward their personal heroes and local difference makers. On Dec. 13, the charges shared the joy of the holiday season with members of Engine 53 by preparing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the Whitman-based personnel.

“They have bigger hearts than anyone,” their instructor said of the pupils. “We talk about appreciating the people who take care of us, so this was their way of spreading the warmth and kindness that should always be parts of the holiday rush.”

Enjoying her first year at the public institution based at 2300 S. Second St., Pierandozzi, 24, formerly a pre-kindergarten teacher at Our Lady of Hope Regional Catholic School, has been able to call upon her employment to strengthen a lifelong friendship with Frank Andrew, a fifth-year presence at the fire station located at 416 Snyder Ave. When she suggested a visit from her students, he and his brethren accepted the idea “with open arms,” and the children pondered how to display their admiration.

“I wanted to make them lunch,” Anthony Dobos said Dec. 15 of the genial gesture. “I thought of peanut butter and jelly because I like them.”

The fifth-grader also reveres firefighters and professed an interest in joining the department, so he revelled last week in his classroom constituents’ trip to ShopRite, 330 W. Oregon Ave., to purchase the sandwich components and bananas. As Pierandozzi offers guidance in, among other areas, understanding the importance of independence, the youngsters enjoyed the excursion and the preparation and inspired a few laughs from their leader.

“Peanut butter and jelly were everywhere,” she recalled of the assembly of the sandwiches. “It was easy to tell, though, that they were loving every minute of it. I loved every second because we live in such judgmental times and these children couldn’t care less. They are dedicated to being the best at whatever they do and don’t need people questioning their competence. Regardless of the challenges that they face, they come up with great ideas, and I’m thrilled to help to facilitate them.”

Last week’s occasion marked the second time this year that the alumnus of Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School and Neumann University has shown support for civil servants. On July 17, she and more than 2,500 participants biked 65 miles in the Irish Pub’s 29th annual Tour de Shore to secure financial assistance for children in need and the families of fallen first responders in the Greater Philadelphia and South Jersey areas.

“When you look at your own blessings, and I don’t care who you are, you have many, I don’t think it’s hard at all to want to give back,” Pierandozzi said during a break from her bunch, whom she encourages everyone to see not as “charity cases” but as individuals well on their way to becoming productive members of society. “I think that it’s particularly important to get that message across to everyone at a young age so that there are more opportunities to make someone’s journey a little easier.”

“Simply put, Tina has a great heart,” Andrew said of the educator. “We think it was so nice of them to want to stop by and give us lunch. At a time when people often think individuals in uniforms are the bad guys, it’s great to know that we have their respect because they certainly have ours.”

The Whitman occupant and his peers have established a fruitful bond with Sharswood, with Andrew noting frequent interactions with the student body, including a Career Day stop in October that saw the registrants spraying hoses and drawing smiles from the guests. For last week’s venture, fate intervened, keeping Andrew and other figures from fraternizing with their admirers due to an emergency. Despite that, the children, having adorned the offerings with Christmas trees and candy canes, enjoyed every moment of the journey to the space, their time among the protectors, and the reflective return to their second-floor class.

“I really liked that we helped them,” Kevin McKay, another fifth grader, said to a nod from Dobos, with Pierandozzi noting how they were all in awe over the quarters, especially due to the presence of beds. “I like knowing that people care about me, so it was good to show we appreciate them, too.”

Such a demeanor makes Pierandozzi glad every day that she decided to pursue special education as her vocation. Honored to join with the parents of her pupils, a few of whom have Down syndrome, in reminding them that they have “someone to be behind them at all times,” the devout Catholic prays each day that she can be a tireless and tenacious advocate for their immersion into everyday society.

“When I was young and played teacher, I bossed my parents around,” she said of being a stern overseer toward Mike and Cindy Pierandozzi. “Now, all I want is to be a tender source of inspiration.”

That mentality paid off a few days ago when she led the learners in a talk about plunging temperatures, becoming especially animated, to their delight, when Shaylique Davis, yet another fifth-grader, declared her love for the cold.

“It’s that kind of personality, that push that she gives them to understand so much about themselves, that makes her a perfect match for those children,” Andrew said. “What they did for us was a tearjerker, and we’re excited that the new year is going to bring us a few more opportunities to pal around with them and the rest of the school.”

“I want to see them again,” Anthony said to a smile from Pierandozzi. “They are nice people.” SPR

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com.