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Nicole Lalena ’12Ed, ’14GEd

As a special education “co-teacher” at P.S. 71 in Ridgewood, Queens, Nicole Lalena ’12Ed, ’14GEd is convinced she is learning as much as her students. “Working with kids,” she said, “you’re always discovering something new, about teaching and about yourself—especially when you’re educating young people in a place like New York City.”

Lalena is part of an Integrated Co-Teaching classroom (ICT), where she and a partner develop, evaluate, and implement plans for the academic and behavioral progress of six students with special needs. “Everyone is extremely collaborative,” she said. “We work with a cross-section of teachers to help students meet their learning goals.”

While teaching is inherently engaging, said Lalena, an urban environment offers its own life lessons. P.S. 71 is in a working-class, multicultural neighborhood. “Many of the children here speak Polish or Spanish at home,” she said. “They often need work with English skills, but at the same time I’m amazed by how effortlessly they switch between two languages. I always tell them what a gift it is to be able to do that.”

Lalena has wanted to teach since the seventh grade. In The School of Education at St. John’s, outstanding faculty, course work, and field experience prepared her to realize that dream. “It allows you to have a positive impact on the world,” she said. “You’re always making a difference, one child at a time.”