Revered Teacher, Mrs. Todes, Forever Remembered at Scholars’

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  Former students, colleagues and friends convened at Scholars’ Academy to dedicate a portion of the library to AnnMarie Todes, a revered former teacher who passed away in 2018.

“Walking into Mrs. Todes' classroom was a sanctuary. Even at the tender age of 10, I knew I was in a special place. I fell in love with learning. She made everything fun and engaging, which made children excited to come to school each day. She lit up any room she entered,” Rebecca Circo, a former student of Mrs. Todes, who later became her colleague at Scholars’, said at the dedication of the AnnMarie Todes Readers’ Retreat section of the library early Wednesday morning, January 15.

The readers’ retreat is intended to be a haven for students to enjoy reading and learning, specifically with some of the books Mrs. Todes loved the most—the works of William Shakespeare, who she taught to her class every year through readings and having students perform some of The Bard’s greatest scenes. “This is what she wanted,” said an emotional Kim Barget, a colleague and close friend of Mrs. Todes, who added that all the details of the readers’ retreat were given Todes’ blessing before she died of cancer in November, 2018. Barget, who taught with Todes for four years at Scholars’ and became a close friend, was one of the few non-family members who were with Todes in her final days. “She said she had a very good life, and she didn’t want anyone to forget about her,” Barget said.

Mrs. Todes spent nearly 50 years in the New York public education system, with a large portion of that time in Rockaway at both P.S. 114 and Scholars’ Academy. She taught so long in Rockaway, that children of former students also became students. “If you lived in Rockaway in the 70s, 80s, 90s, having Mrs.  Todes was a rite of passage,” said Circo, who had Mrs.Todes in fourth grade at P.S. 114. Circo now teaches in the same room where Mrs. Todes spent much of her Scholars’ tenure. “Getting a chance to work with Mrs. Todes as a colleague was a dream come true for me. When I decided to become an educator, it was her words, her lessons and her dedication that inspired me,” she said.

Mrs. Todes was one of the first teachers to make the move to Scholars’ Academy, joining former P.S. 114 principal Brian O’Connell on the new venture, “She was a one-of-a-kind teacher,” O’Connell said. “It wasn’t a job for her, it was a passion.”

The dedication ceremony opened with a rendition of Natalie Merchant’s “Kind and Generous” by music teacher Alexander Leicht and English teacher Leslie Kohn, who said the song’s lyrics perfectly sums up, "the  gift [Todes] was for all of us.” The high school chorus also performed “Home” by Philip Phillips, which Mrs. Todes taught to the chorus while Scholars’ middle school was displaced due to Hurricane Sandy.   

The library section and its dedication were a group effort from many of Mrs. Todes’ former colleagues and friends, as well as former students. “We always had fun learning, there was always something more,” said former student Jake Schwartz, who along with his twin brother, Drew, and his mother, helped raise money to put the dedication together. “No one outside my family has had as much of an impact on my life,” Schwartz said.

Together, Jake and Drew Schwartz cut the ribbon on Wednesday, officially opening the AnnMarie Todes Readers’ Retreat to all current and future Scholars’ students, forever commemorating the life and teachings of a beloved teacher who had a lasting impact.

 As a journalist, it tends to be frowned upon to include yourself in the narrative of the story, but for every student that went through Scholars’ Academy, and passed through Mrs. Todes’ door, myself included, were met with a kindness and love for learning that is rarely felt in a classroom. Her encouragement to me, and many others as writers and readers helped pave the way for the rest of our time at Scholars’ Academy and beyond.

In the front of Mrs. Todes’ classroom, in large white lettering, is a quote that still exists in that room today, by San Antonio Spurs star, Tim Duncan, which became a mantra for Mrs. Todes that she shared with her students and emulated daily:

“Good, better, best, never let rest until your good is better, and your better is best.”

 By Ryan Schwach

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