MONTREAL, OCTOBER 21, 2008 - Romolo (Molo) Finelli, the physical education teacher at Merton Elementary School in Côte Saint-Luc, was honoured by staff, students and members of his family October 20 for receiving the National Excellence Award for Teachers (NEAT) by the Heritage Education Foundation.
This award was established in 2004 to recognize the impact that teachers can have on their students, inspiring a love of learning that can last a lifetime. NEAT acknowledges teachers who, through their dedication and use of innovative teaching approaches are enhancing the learning experience of their students in the early years of education. A recipient is selected annually from each of the five Canadian regions (British Columbia and Yukon, NWT and Nunavut, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.
“Molo,” as he is affectionately known, is a former Olympic trampoliner and gymnastics instructor who was drawn to Merton in 2003 because of its gymnasium and intimate environment. He’s been a physical education teacher in the public school system for 21 years. Unlike most gym teachers who focus on teaching conventional sports, Molo decided to add circus activities like juggling and acrobatics to the regular curriculum. It was then that the school’s principal, Raizel Candib , encouraged Molo to put together an end of the year circus show for students who wished to volunteer their time outside of class. “The first show was magical and from then on it became a tradition,” said Molo.
For Molo, the amazing thing about the circus is that everyone can participate because there’s something for each person. “Each student has a knack for something, I just direct them in the right direction” said Molo.
Ms. Candib believes that Molo’s impact on the students reaches far beyond the classroom and the stage. “The circus program gives them the kind of strength and confidence that they need to deal with the issues in their lives. It lets them know that they can reach for the stars,” said Ms. Candib.
At the ceremony in a gymnasium packed with excited students, students presented Molo with a arts and crafts model of his circus, dozens of handwritten cards. There was also a surprise circus performance from a group of his senior students, including somersaults, juggling, balancing and unicycle driving. Molo’s colleague, teacher Bertrand Cyr, read a tribute to him as did his longtime friend and teaching colleague Marco Fraticelli. Ms. Candib presented Molo’s proud mother, Rosa, with a bouquet of flowers. Molo’s brother, wife, two children, his first principal when he taught at Hampstead School, Connie Bradshaw, and many friends were on hand.
“Molo and I both arrived at Merton School in September 2003 and since then every day has been a joy,” said Ms. Candib. “ Molo, both literally and figuratively, performs magic in his gym classes with students from Kindergarten to Grade 6. To be in Molo’s class is the experience of a lifetime.
“Although Molo fully covers all the objectives of the Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sports program, the focus of his teaching is circus skills,” Ms. Candib continued. “ Every child in Merton School learns how to juggle, to ride a unicycle, to walk on a circus ball, to do aerial acrobatics, and more. Molo’s approach to teaching is to allow each child to progress at his/her rate and by constant encouragement, each child develops his/her potential. There is nothing too difficult for the students to accomplish because they are constantly challenging themselves to improve their skills. Upon entering Molo’s class you will see constant movement as each child is working on their own activity and there is no noise, because everyone is concentrating on honing their craft.”
Ms. Candib noted how Molo has had a significant impact on the lives of many students. “When Molo arrived to the school, there was a Grade 6 boy who had difficulties coming to school because of problems at home,” she recalled. “ Molo introduced this boy to the rola-bola-, a balancing board. This changed the boy’s life. He discovered that he was a natural on the rola-bola. Although he was large and overweight, suddenly he found a physical education activity in which he could shine. Not only that, he also found out that he could be funny and entertaining. He became a different person. His school attendance became perfect and his academic performance vastly improved. In other words, Molo’s care and encouragement gave this boy hope for the future. He is now in his fourth year of high school, doing well and always comes back to thank Molo.
“Another example,” continued Ms. Candib, “is a girl who decided that she wanted to learn to ride the unicycle. Although this girl was somewhat heavy, this did not stop her, because Molo’s program encourages students of all shapes and sizes. It breaks down the stereotypes that only skinny girls can achieve success. As she advanced in her unicycle skills so did her self-esteem. Although not a strong student, she is doing well in high school because she has learned to apply the determination and discipline she learned while riding the unicycle to her academics.”
Molo said he was honoured to accept the award, but insisted that many other teachers are just as deserving. He thanked Ms. Candib for submitting his candidacy and pledged to continue to promote Merton School.