Frank Marchica & Rachael McNally: Supporting Student Success

by Ellyssa Jeong and Anya Lefkowitz, Centerfold Editors
photo contributed by Frank Marchica

Faculty members rise to the challenges of a remote learning community and are going above and beyond to help their students. Marchica, pictured above, displays his three-screen set up for remote teaching

On a typical day at the math center last year, math teacher and math center tutor Frank Marchica would spend his time walking his students through the problems they were struggling with. Some came on a regular schedule, while others wandered in when they had a specific question. History teacher Rachael McNally, meanwhile, would be organizing students within the small study program while assisting students with problems related to history and English.

Marchica and McNally are two teachers working tirelessly to replicate student support services in a virtual format in a year when many students are struggling more than ever. 

McNally worked to remodel the small study program, which is now offered only on Thursdays and Fridays with multiple teachers available to help students in different breakout rooms. The switch to offering a variety of teachers of different subjects, as well as multiple new applications like Nearpod have allowed her to work with students more efficiently, McNally said.

“This is a perfect example of something I hope we can keep in the future. I think it’s actually better to only have small studies happening for the second half of the week and have multiple teachers available,” she said.

Marchica said that this year has posed challenges to forming personal connections.
“It’s very different when you meet somebody one-on-one and build up that connection versus looking, unfortunately, at some little avatar on the screen,” he said. “I pride myself on my ability to have a student come in and focus on how it is that they like to learn. One thing that I say to nearly everybody that I run into is that there’s more than one way to solve a problem. I try to tune in to how a student approaches a problem and find the best method for them.” 

Marchica’s strategies seem to be working, especially for students like senior Jada Pierre who challenge themselves in math. 

“I’m constantly impressed by his knowledge and the shortcuts and tricks he teaches to students,” Pierre said. “He’s really good at teaching — if you don’t understand something, you’ll know it within the next few minutes because he’s going to make sure that you understand it.”

Marchica said that his pride when helping a student understand a concept continues to be unmatched. Despite the challenges, Marchica said that to his surprise, there have been teaching strategies that have continued to work efficiently in the remote setting. 

“I will walk her through the first problem with me thinking out loud. … And then for the second question, I’m going to say, ‘okay, now, how would you approach this?’ It might take a little bit of coaxing along to ask questions, but after that one’s done successfully, for three, four and five, I’m sitting there watching, and it really is a wonderful thing to watch her understand it,” he said. “It’s like back at the math center, that process that I’ve adopted, and we’re getting through it.”

Pierre, who worked with Marchica for four hours a week over the summer to master the necessary skills for a successful advancement to  Calculus AB, said that even when she felt most challenged, Marchica motivated her to keep pushing herself. 

“He really pushed me in math, and I was able to achieve levels of knowledge I didn’t think I was able to acquire,” she said. “I actually wanted to give up so many times in math this year, but I kept pushing through because of him … he has a good heart, and he’s the sweetest person ever. I love Mr. Marchica so much, and he’s one of the best teachers at South.”

It’s important that students maintain resilience in a remote year, McNally said.

“We have this opportunity to practice not going to a negative place this year — that could be the most amazing turning point for people personally and for our community for the future,” she said.

Despite her many responsibilities as a teacher and the small study peer group co-organizer, McNally said she hopes to continue connecting with her students, maybe even in an in-person setting.

“I really hope there’s some way to have a little reunion next fall,” she said.

“We’re getting through this. As long as the student wants to get through it, I’m there for them,” Marchia said. “I’m looking to get to every last one that needs help that approaches me.”