by Kayla Shore
Stopped in the street on a regular basis by former students, whether they be businessmen, waiters or Harvard professors, Ty Vignone cannot go anywhere without encountering a student he’s made a “lifelong impact on,” according to close friend and history teacher Gregory Drake.
Whether they are 25 or 52, they all remember their classes with the energetic and passionate Vignone. “It’s a consistent lovefest,” said friend and vice principal Deb Holman.
Beloved by students and teachers alike, Vignone has “created connections to people in every corner of the building,” Drake said.
Vignone, an integral part of this school, is retiring after 46 years of teaching in Newton and a 50 year career.
Vignone, much to the relief of many students and faculty, will return to teach Close Up: Seminar in Government and do administrative work. He will also continue to lead the annual Prague Summer trip.
Vignone grew up in Longmeadow, Mass., attending Cathedral High School in Springfield, Mass., from which he graduated in 1956. He graduated from American International College in 1960 with a double major in psychology and English.
“I got into the classroom and I loved it, absolutely loved it. It was just exhilarating to see the kids were learning and getting the message and feeling good about the topic.”
From that point on, Vignone knew he wanted to stay in teaching, so he joined the Peace Corps in 1962. Vignone was part of the first Peace Corps group that went to Ethiopia, where he continued to teach.
“It was just another piece of candy. It just caught me again that I love being with kids and teaching kids.”
Next, Vignone returned to his former middle school in Longmeadow to teach. He arrived in Newton in 1965, when he began teaching at Day Junior High School, where he taught until 1983. Vignone received his master’s degree in education from Cambridge College.
He moved to this school in 1983 when ninth grade was shifted from junior high school to high school.
According to Vignone, staff members at this school were apprehensive when the new wave of teachers arrived.
“They thought that we weren’t quite ‘high school caliber,’” he said. “They changed their mind when they saw some very good teaching and even picked up on our little tricks of the trade.”
Vignone continued to establish himself in the new school. He created and co-taught a course called “Whose America Is It?”
The course, taught for two years in the mid-’80s, looked at immigration and diversity issues, focusing on Boston.
Besides this course, Vignone has also taught European History, American History, World History and Close Up.
Some of Vignone’s fondest memories of this school come from the ninth grade Beals House Cluster he created and taught.
This consisted of a group of students that did interdisciplinary work in science, English and history. “Those were great years,” he said.
“The goal is, every day, to ask yourself the question when the kids leave the classroom, ‘Did they learn something in class that day, did they walk out feeling good about themselves, about the learning process?’ That’s what’s kept me going,” he said.
This is Vignone’s 46th year in Newton, a city that he feels has provided an excellent teaching environment.
“I would never, ever have stuck around if I didn’t think I was being challenged every day with new curricula, new students, new ideas and great parental support, school committee and administrators.”
One of the ways that this school showed its support was by awarding Vignone the Elicker Award in 1995.
If Newton had not compelled Vignone so, he would have pursued an international career, he said.
In lieu of this career path, Vignone was committed to making students at this school into global citizens. “Students must be well-informed about domestic and international issues,” he said.
From this commitment sprung the Close Up course. “Close Up was a club, and to me, it was just too significant not to have offered to students on a more formal basis.”
Vignone was able to draw a group of 100 students every Friday morning at 7 for this elective. “For them to get up early in the morning must have meant that they were interested in learning about current issues,” he said.
Eventually, Vignone convinced the administration to include Close Up as a course offered during the school day, and it continues to draw 100 plus students.
But Vignone’s commitment to creating fully realized and active citizens did not end with Close Up.
“In 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, my senior European history kids were joking around, saying ‘take us to Berlin.’
“I said, ‘If you’re serious, we’re going.’ So I took them to Berlin. We packed up our little hammers and our little chisels and screwdrivers, and we went to help take the Wall down.”
The group also traveled to Prague, Vienna and Budapest. Upon their return, they implored Vignone to continue taking students to Eastern Europe. So, the program continued and evolved into what is now the 22nd Prague Summer trip.
“I’m an advocate of touching history and smelling history,” he said.
Former English department head and assistant superintendent Brenda Keegan, a longtime friend of Vignone’s, praised him for having great presence in the school.
“He’s a dynamo of energy, and a positive spirit in the school,” she said, adding that he really “promoted collegial spirit” among the faculty members.
Vignone has a wonderful influence on kids, said Keegan. “He persuaded kids to take responsibility for themselves,” she said. “I don’t know what this school would do without him.”
Holman said, “He is universally adored.”
Besides returning to this school for administrative work and Close Up, Vignone plans to do more traveling when he is not here. Vignone is too energetic and engaged in this school to leave for good.
“I’m too itchy––I don’t know how to relax, and I love teaching,” he said. “I’m going to miss teaching more kids,” he said, despite the fact that he will still teach at least 100 students next year.
Many have been apprehensive about Vignone leaving this school, but he makes sure that they know he is not going anywhere.
“Oh yeah, I’m not retiring, are you kidding me?” Vignone reassured a colleague. “I’m far from it, sweetheart.”