Anna-Marie DiPasquale retires: Her mission – to lift and connect

  • ELL School Social Worker Anna-Marie DiPasquale says thank you to her students, Yvette Uwase, (far left), Nour Elhawawi, and Rosima Sarjee (right) at Concord High School before the ‘Be the Best’ breakfast on June 2. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • ELL School Social Worker Anna-Marie DiPasquale says thank you to her students Nour Elhawawi (far left) Yvette Uwase, (left), and Rosima Sarjee (right)  at Concord High School before the 'Be the Best' breakfast on Thursday, June 2, 2022.  GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • ELL School Social Worker Anna-Marie DiPasquale says thank you to her students, Yvette Uwase, (left), and Rosima Sarjee (right)at Concord High School before the 'Be the Best' breakfast on Thursday, June 2, 2022.  GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • ELL social worker Anna-Marie DiPasquale says thank you to her students at Concord High School before the “Be the Best” breakfast on June 2. DiPasquale retired at the end of the school year. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/30/2022 1:53:05 PM

A typical work day at Concord High School for Anna-Marie DiPasquale began with about 15 students trooping into her office to eat their breakfast.

For DiPasquale, the school’s longtime English Language Learner social worker, the morning breakfasts were a consistent opportunity in an otherwise variable work day to make sure students were ready for school.

“It’s like a check-in,” DiPasquale explained. “ ‘How’s everybody? How was everybody’s night? Everybody good? Get your homework done? Everybody get enough sleep? What’s happening after school today?’ ”

DiPasquale is retiring after 12 years in the district, where she helped new American students access services, pursue leadership opportunities and plan for the future. DiPasquale is ready to step back and rest, but says she loved every minute of her time working with students.

“I’ve always said to myself, ‘if I lose one-tenth of my energy, then it will be time for me to pass the baton,’” DiPasquale said.

When Hamza Abdulrahman started at Concord High as a freshman, DiPasquale was the first person he met. Abdulrahman, who is originally from Sudan, had recently arrived from Egypt and spoke no English. By the end of that first day, Abdulrahman said, DiPasquale had already introduced him to some key teachers who would become his mentors and landed him a spot on the track team. Later, Abdulrahman participated in the Be the Change Club and DiPasquale’s “Around the World” initiative, presenting to freshman social studies classes about North Sudan. When it came time to look for colleges, DiPasquale encouraged him to apply to Husson University, where he now studies business and digital marketing and plays on the basketball team.

“Ms. D. is a person who you never forget,” Abdulrahman said. “She is always willing to help. She thinks about the people around her more than herself.”

DiPasquale began working in the Concord School District in 2010, as an education liaison to the district through Lutheran Social Services (now called Ascentria Care Alliance), and divided her time between the schools. But it wasn’t long before former Concord High principal Gene Connolly decided the high school would benefit from having DiPasquale there full time, and she moved into the role of ELL social worker.

The four goals they had at the time were to integrate and make new American students feel welcome, to help with their academic and cultural adjustment to Concord, to help them find summer enrichment programs and leadership opportunities, and to help them make post-secondary plans.

“[Principal Gene Connolly] trusted me, he gave me so much support and encouragement, and allowed me to be very creative,” DiPasquale said. “We had our goals in mind and he allowed me the freedom and opportunity to create anything that I wanted to do as long as it was going to meet these goals.”

At the time, DiPasquale said, they were averaging about 30 new refugee students per summer. Primarily due to language barriers, the new students didn’t quite understand what was happening. At the same time, other students had misconceptions about refugee resettlement. DiPasquale went into social studies classes to speak about the difference between immigrants and refugees, and what it’s like to relocate to the U.S.

“It really allowed American kids and new American kids to have these conversations,” DiPasquale said.

Each school day tends to be different for an ELL social worker, and much of the job is logistics and problem-solving. If students were having trouble in math, DiPasquale helped them obtain after-school math coaching. If a student needed a letter for Free & Reduced Lunch, DiPasquale made sure the proper forms got filled out. When new arrivals needed to enroll at the school, she guided them through tours and helped them get their records filed and meet the nurse. This past school year, she made a number of appointments for students who seemed to all need new eyeglasses at the same time. Often DiPasquale’s work would take her out of the school building to conduct home visits, particularly if a teacher reported that a student had been missing class.

“They come, they bring the problem, and then we help problem-solve it,” DiPasquale said. “Sometimes it feels like I’m directing traffic. I’m like the point person for how to get things done.”

Concord High alumn Pascal Zabayo’s plan was to work at Wal-Mart after graduation, until DiPasquale began talking to him about college. She helped him, his brother and their friends with filing taxes, completing the FAFSA and applying for scholarships. He graduated in 2020 and is now preparing to enter his junior year at Plymouth State University.

“She showed us there is more to life than just graduating high school,” said Zabayo. “She showed us we can go to college for four years or two years, and she said, ‘I am going to help you guys get there.’ ”

Zabayo, who was born in Congo and grew up in Uganda, also didn’t speak English when he came to the U.S. in 2016. He said DiPasquale was the reason he finished high school.

“I really thank her every day and I don’t think I can thank her enough,” Zabayo said.

Rup Timsina, the bicultural liaison at Concord High, has worked closely with DiPasquale and called her one of the most “resourceful” people he’s ever met.

“She established so many things for the new Americans here, especially the new American students,” Timsina said. “She instilled in people that education is something that uplifts the lives of the people. Many, many students they already changed their lives because of her support and because of her help.”

One of her signature programs was the Be the Change Club, which started out as a small lunch gathering so new American students could meet each other, and quickly grew into a student organization with 40 to 50 members. The club had weekly meetings and lunches and hosted a school-wide event every month, like a Diwali party, an Eid Party or the annual International Night.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, DiPasquale and Timsina took their work on the road, going from house to house where Timsina would knock on students’ doors and bring them outside to DiPasquale’s makeshift “office” in the trunk of her car, with a WiFi hotspot to help the students connect with their teachers and troubleshoot academic problems. When they realized many students were oversleeping and missing their online classes, DiPasquale started bringing a bell and ringing it loudly outside students’ homes to roust them from bed in the morning.

“What Rup and I did was just about hanging in there,” DiPasquale said. “We were just really focused on ‘please don’t give up,’ ‘I know this is hard,’ and ‘you’re gonna have to wake yourself up.’ ”

In retirement, DiPasquale will be moving with her husband to the rocky coast of Maine where she plans to rest for a while, before eventually finding a new creative endeavor to keep her busy.

DiPasquale’s position at Concord High will be filled by social worker Lauren Aversa-Owens, who worked previously in the Merrimack Valley School District. DiPasquale said she predicts Aversa-Owens will bring the same amount of enthusiasm and energy that she herself has brought to the position for the last 12 years.

“She is exactly what we needed and exactly what I was hoping for in my replacement,” DiPasquale said. “I can retire in peace knowing my students and the program are in very capable hands.”

In the last month of school, CHS students showed their appreciation for DiPasquale by honoring her with a page in the 2022 yearbook, and performing songs for her at International Night.

“To have the kids say, ‘you created opportunities for us that we wouldn’t otherwise have,’ is the greatest expression of love that I could ever hope for,” DiPasquale said.


Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.



Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301
603-224-5301

 

© 2021 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy