WESTPORT — It’s no question technological shifts have changed the experience of children growing up, and Westport’s newest teacher of the year, Staples High School Italian teacher Enia Noonan, said she seeks to grow in response to her students’ needs — especially social interaction.

“A lot of the communication that happens with our students now is asynchronous, through social media. I’ve thought a lot about this and the impact it has on our children,” Noonan said at the Sept. 4 Board of Education meeting at Staples High School, where she accepted the award for Westport’s 2019 Teacher of the Year.

“I wanted to claw back a bit of this third place from the talons of the virtual world, so I decided to bring the Italian coffee bar right into my classroom,” Noon said in reference to sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s work about the importance of a “third place” in society for creative social interactions.

At the end of each class, Noonan has students converse with one another about their lives as if they were in an Italian coffee house, an exercise which she said enhances students’ Italian skills and emotional health.

“The lessons in her class are always centered around the idea that yes, Italian is important, but not every class, every grade, is the most important thing ever. Everyday is an opportunity to succeed, learn if you did not meet that goal, and find what it is that does make you successful,” Staples Principal James D’Amico said while presenting the award to Noonan.

She was chosen for the award by past teachers of the year from a pool of 17 nominated educators. Noonan has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in bilingual and special education from Fairfield University.

“Enia, perhaps more than anyone else I’ve met in Westport in the last 18 years, intuitively understands how to provide an emotionally aware and intelligent environment for students,” D’Amico said.

Now in her 30th year with Westport schools, Noonan first came to the district in 1980 to work as a special education teacher at Coleytown Elementary School. From there, Noonan worked in special education at Long Lots Elementary School, but missed teaching Spanish as she had done in Bridgeport Public Schools. So she switched to work as a Spanish teacher at Bedford Middle School, where she taught for three years before heading to Staples in 2005 to start the school’s Italian program.

“When you go into her classroom, it doesn’t make matter who you are, you feel like you’re the only person in that room. She makes you feel that special,” Superintendent Colleen Palmer said of Noonan, who lives in Weston.

“As I reflect on our challenges now, I wonder if our work was a bit simpler in the past, mostly academic in nature. Now, the social and emotional needs of our children will require increasing attention,” Noonan said in concluding her speech.

svaughan@hearst

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