New Crew

by Emma Zhang, Features Editor
photo by Eva Shimkus

Mazen Abdallah worked in Newton’s special education program for the past few years which is where he was introduced to the Newton school system, one whose values aligned with his own. At South, he will teach English.

Abdallah said that his passion for teaching English and sharing cultures stemmed from his childhood love of reading.

“I loved that stories gave me a chance to learn about people I didn’t even meet,” he said. “It opened the windows to a lot of different cultures, and I wanted to be able to share that.”

He said that he values diversity in the classroom and is looking forward to building relationships with each individual student. 

“It’s important to acknowledge that students are very diverse, and no two students are the same,” he said.

photo contributed by Michelle Caine

After five years as a science teacher at South Boston High School, Michelle Caine will teach both biology and physics at South. 

After having tried various career paths, she said that teaching made her feel at home. 

 “In the other jobs I’ve tried, I was surrounded by people who were super passionate about what they did, but I never felt that zest and fervor that they seemed to have. Teaching was the place where I finally understood what they were feeling,” she said.

Caine said that she hopes that through biology, her students will not only learn science but also take away lasting life lessons. 

“In biology, it’s evident how interconnected everything is,” she said. “Your impact will have far-reaching effects, and that’s something I wish more people would keep in their minds and hearts.”

photo contributed by Caroline Joyce

Caroline Joyce spent the last two years as an assistant teacher at South’s preschool and will now be working as one of the preschool’s lead teachers.

She said that South’s dual-purpose preschool, serving as both a school for children and an opportunity for high school students to interact and learn about children, is what initially drew her to South.

“I had a lab preschool in my high school, and I loved it because it’s such a rare and special experience,” she said. 

Joyce said that her passion for teaching children came from her own interactions with teachers.

“Growing up, I loved my teachers so much. I was inspired and always looked up to them, so I decided that I wanted to be that person for somebody else,” she said. “I love working with young children because they see life in such a special way.”

photo by Eva Shimkus

Lijie Li taught math in China and in various programs around Newton, including the Newton Chinese Language School. There, she heard about South and will be working as a math teacher this year.

As a woman of color, Li felt embraced by South’s welcoming nature.

“It is a community that values diversity,” she said. “During both the interviewing and orientation process, it felt like a very welcoming place.” 

Li said that she is looking forward to uplifting all her students, no matter what.

“Every student has their own shining side, no matter how well they perform in their academics,” she said. “As an educator, it is important to identify those positive elements in every student to make them shine both inside and outside your class.”

photo by Eva Shimkus

For the last few years, Fenton Pongnon taught math and science in Boston and other cities. He will be teaching physics at South this year, his first time teaching in the suburbs.

Pongnon said that he strongly believes that teaching is always adapting, especially when it comes to technology. He said that this constant changing is what makes being a teacher so compelling.

“In my time, there were no cell phones or technology. There are a lot of things now that I didn’t have before, so how could I teach the way I had in the past?” he said.

He said that he is excited to meet his new students and adjust to their individual learning styles.

“You never know how to teach until you find out what kind of kids are in front of you,” he said. 

photo by Eva Shimkus

Tim Te taught science in Beverly, first biology and later transitioning to chemistry, which he will be teaching at South.

After Te graduated from South in 2007, he said that the support of his teachers stuck with him for a lifetime, leaving him inspired to pay it forward at his alma mater.

“I was a student here and there were some teachers that made a really big impact on my life,” he said. “I had some difficult circumstances, and they really helped me get through it. I would be a much different person without the support of my teachers here.”

Te said that above all else, he wants to instill a lasting curiosity in all his students.

“There’s a lot of things we teach in high school that you’re going to forget, but one of the things I really want my students to walk away with is an appreciation for learning,” he said.

photo by Eva Shimkus

After teaching biology at Conestoga High School for four years, Ashley Vollaro left Pennsylvania to live closer to her family in Massachusetts. This year, she will teach biology and neurobiology at South.

Growing up in Massachusetts, Vollaro had heard about Newton’s reputable school system. Upon applying, Vollaro said that she knew it would be a great opportunity to work with passionate colleagues and grow as a teacher.

“When I got to meet the department, it was one of those immediate click moments because I knew that everybody wanted to provide a meaningful science experience for students,” she said. “Knowing the reputation of Newton, I appreciated that I would be held to high standards because I wanted to be pushed to be a better teacher.”