By Emily Drooby
JACKSON HEIGHTS — At St. Joan of Arc Catholic School, it’s a family affair.
The Fitzgeralds, who are longtime residents of Jackson Heights, have been enrolling their kids at St. Joan of Arc since childhood. Today, three members of the family are giving back to the place that raised and loved them — as teachers.
Mary Ellen Fitzgerald, the mom, has been teaching pre-K for over a decade, and two of her daughters, Katie and Roisin, are also now teachers at the school.
“I’m proud of St. Joan of Arc. It’s a special place,” said Mary Ellen, who also attends the neighborhood parish. “It’s really the people here, from students and faculty, to parents, priests and staff … I feel like this is where I belong.”
All four of her children attended St. Joan of Arc, which has grades pre-K through eight. And now, Mary Ellen’s grandson, Cillian, is enrolled in the school.
“This is my eighth year as a teacher,” said Roisin, a pre-K 4 teacher, sitting in her old third-grade classroom.
“I can’t imagine being anywhere but here. I know New York’s got great public schools, but this is my home. And there’s something about this place, when you grow up somewhere and follow it through for the entire journey… coming back here is like walking in the footsteps of my childhood every day.”
Roisin said that she wants to give to her students the same special and familiar experience she had growing up at St. Joan’s.
“There’s a feeling you get when you walk through the doors at St. Joan of Arc … like this is home. People who choose St. Joan of Arc know and feel this,” she added. “This is our community … Jackson Heights is our home — and who knows it better than the people who live here in the community, who teach and work and become adults within this place?”
Katie Fitzgerald said she fell into teaching several years ago because of the influence of her mom. She started at St. Joan of Arc as a kindergarten assistant, and “ended up falling in love with it,” moving up to teach the fourth grade. She has been there ever since.
“Growing up here, I was always involved in CYO sports, altar-serving at the parish … This place has always been a second home. Some of the teachers here are the teachers I had growing up. Having them be your teachers, to now your mentors and colleagues; they’re all just amazing people who have made me who I am today,” she said.
Another sister, now a police officer, also once taught at St. Joan of Arc.
The sisters added they really love working together, because it keeps them connected — even when things get busy.
“We don’t see each other too much in the day-to-day sense, but it’s the little things — saying hi [in the halls], watching each other’s students, being able to grab a coffee after school,” Katie said. “You go home tired at the end of the day, so it’s nice to see each other on a regular basis.”
“And we work well together,” Roisin added. “It’s the best thing ever.”
Raffaele Corso, the new principal, said that having a Catholic legacy family teaching at his school strengthens his belief in Catholic education in the Diocese of Brooklyn, which he says is “one big family.”
“Coming to St. Joan of Arc and seeing an actual family of graduates now teaching here, it just strengthens that family feel for me here, and it’s wonderful,” he said.