No signs of slowing down after 46 years at St. Brigid

She can remember a time when Italian was as common as English on East Danforth.

 Vincy Angelone made the tough decision to retire from teaching after 46 years at St. Brigid Catholic School near Woodbine and Danforth. PHOTO: Jon Muldoon

Vincy Angelone made the tough decision to retire from teaching after 46 years at St. Brigid Catholic School near Woodbine and Danforth.
PHOTO: Jon Muldoon

In fact, Vincenzina – more commonly known as Vincy – Angelone repeated Grade 1 at St. Brigid Catholic School in order to learn English, after immigrating to Canada with her family from the Abruzzo region of Italy in 1952.

Later she volunteered at the school, translating for Italian parents.

And so it only made sense that when she was ready to start her teaching career, it would be at St. Brigid – the same school she has now retired from after 46 years.

Angelone still remembers the day she crossed paths with the school principal while she was out shopping on the Danforth with her mother.

“On the Danforth he said, ‘Will you come and teach for me?’ And that’s where I’ve been since 1969,” she said.

While she later moved to Agincourt, it seemed there was always a reason to stay at St. Brigid, whether it was the Italian grandparents who still live in the area – one couple applauds for her from their front porch every year as she arrives on the first day of school – or for her students, who come from families of all backgrounds. Well-off families from the Upper Beach, lower income students from the Main and Danforth neighbourhood, even the occasional student from a mother staying at a nearby women’s shelter – Angelone has enjoyed trying to meet all of their needs as a teacher of Grades 1 through 4.

“It’s lovely to teach, you know, because everyone has different needs, and that’s the reason why, I guess,” she said. “Every year became another 10 years, every 10 years became another 20, and here we are at 46.”

Angelone said the decision to retire didn’t come easily, and in the end it was the possibility of labour action in the fall that tipped the balance for her. She feels for her colleagues, who may end up having to bear the brunt of the public’s inevitable reaction to a strike or a work-to-rule campaign.

“The public doesn’t get it. It’s not the money, it’s not the holidays. It’s what we are faced with teaching that we were never faced with before,” she said.

“When I started teaching, we had a full-time nurse, we had a dentist, we had special ed, we had remedial reading, we had a guidance counsellor, we had industrial arts,” said Angelone.

“That gave all the kids the tools that they needed.”

While she is a fan of new technology in the classroom, Angelone also smiles and admits she still teaches cursive handwriting despite it no longer being part of the official curriculum. Smart boards are a great example of helpful new technology, she said – it’s amazing to be able to show a class a photo of some far-off locale.

“But these things can’t replace the people,” she said.

When asked what advice she would offer to new teachers, Angelone laughed and replied, “Off the record or on?”

Having trained new teachers since 1971, she does know something about helping out newcomers to the teaching world. Her advice is to always remember a teacher should make a child’s life special – a good teacher at the right time can change the world for a child.

“It’s not an assembly line that we’re working with, they’re lives,” she said.

Unlike the glory days of educational funding, some things are best left in the past – things like cultural resistance to women being involved in sports.

Angelone introduced soccer to the students at St. Brigid’s, coaching boys and girls and starting an intramural league. With her husband and others she helped create the Scarborough Blues soccer club, which later merged with Scarborough Azzuri to become the Scarborough Azzuri Blues, despite the Italian community’s resistance to a woman being involved in competitive soccer.

And in 1979 she began volunteering with the Robbie international soccer tournament, held every year at Birchmount Stadium. The tournament is named for Robbie Wimbs, the son of Scarborough soccer organizer John Wimbs. It has drawn teams from around the world and raised money for Cystic Fibrosis Canada for almost half a century. Angelone is now the director of hospitality for the Robbie.

Angelone faced a battle with breast cancer in the late 1980s. In biographical information provided by the school, it’s casually mentioned that Angelone kept working during this time, taking Fridays off for chemotherapy and radiation treatments. But in keeping with her attitude, she talks mostly about the Robbie and Kick 4 the Cure, the women’s indoor soccer tournament she helped start to benefit the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

Reading about the constant advances in research makes it worth all the countless hours of volunteering with the tournaments, she said.

“It’s so rewarding,” said Angelone.

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the Robbie, and after only a brief month off after this year’s tournament, held every June, planning begins for the next year’s events.

Between her volunteer work and constant adventures with her five grandchildren, Angelone has no intention of sitting still, let alone slowing down.

Angelone credits her positive attitude with helping her not only survive, but thrive over the years. Her outlook on life is one thing she said she’d like to share, though it’s not all that complicated to explain.

“You wake up every day and it’s a brand new day and a fresh start,” she said. “How can you make a difference in somebody’s life?”

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