Sun shined through the wall of windows and onto the empty desks of Main Building Room 232. It was a quiet day on campus—the first day of preparation for remote learning last March. All morning, teachers had gathered to share best practices, acquire video cameras, and brace themselves for a new reality.
At the front of this classroom, which has been her home base for many years, veteran Math teacher Jean Antonelli Hon. ’19 began her lesson on exponential growth, drawing graphs on her Smart board. She had an audience of one—just a small video camera set up on a desk. It was completely uncharted territory, but she made it look easy.
“Mrs. A” had a wealth of experience to draw upon as she started her online teaching, including decades of Math instruction and a keen understanding of how important structure is for students’ learning. Watching the lesson she prepared that day, a student might have felt at ease as he started attending school from home, with the kind and familiar teacher helping lead the way.
As she retires, there is so much to appreciate and admire about the great gifts that Antonelli has shared with Saint Ignatius High School. Hers is a classroom that has always felt warm, with bright colored posters decorating the walls, the occasional opportunity for students to run and grab a snack from the dining hall, and a care for each student, from the fastest learner to the student who finds math challenging.
“She’s definitely a teacher who works well with kids who struggle and kids who excel,” says Math department chair Dave Sabol ’99. “Every year she’s great with both honors and standard level classes.”
Mrs. Antonelli started teaching at Saint Ignatius in 1982 on a part-time basis, eventually becoming full-time in the late 1990s. Her husband, Tony, taught Math here since 1974 before moving to part-time for the current school year.
Indeed, Antonelli is at ease teaching junior and senior-level math, as well as Fundamentals of Algebra. And it’s not just during class time; for years, she has remained dedicated to working with students during free periods or after school, whether it’s catching up after missed classes or just providing extra instruction when a student has a hard time grasping certain concepts.
“She is really good at finding out where students are going to potentially go astray, and she’s really good at proactively getting them before that happens,” Sabol says.
This approach to teaching Math also helps the young men in Antonelli’s class just become better students. In Room 232, they learn about the importance of organization, responsibility, and hard work. She uses structure and simple rules to create a framework for student success. WOP (write out problems) and SAW (show all work) are monikers remembered by alumni long after their graduation.
Mrs. A is also one of those teachers who really understands freshmen—their anxieties, deficiencies, tendencies, and needs. In part, her work outside the classroom as Freshman Class Moderator for nearly 20 years reflects her commitment to helping the newest Wildcats make a smooth transition into high school by making friends and learning what this place is all about.
“A lot of the things that are so important for the freshman experience that people don’t normally associate with working at this school—she does it so well,” Sabol says. Those things include freshman mixers, class activities for Christmas in Our Community Day, and Freshman Spirit Day.
Math teacher Erin Hanna, who has worked with Antonelli as Freshman Class Moderator, says, “She’s always been really open and willing to help me learn the ropes, and to really get me situated and organized to the point where now I feel confident taking over. She’s really just always there to help. It’s one of the great things about her, and I know the students see that, too.”
Hanna, who is just six years into her teaching career, has appreciated the friendship and mentoring that Antonelli has generously shared with her.
“She has a wealth of experience, and it’s just been nice to have a female role model on campus. Just to be able to work with her has been really nice. She is a good model of a person of faith, a person of compassion, and I feel like I could always go to her. I feel like she kind of took me under her wing when I got here and made it feel like home.”
Outside the classroom, Antonelli also served for a number of years as a moderator for the Arrupe Explorers and Arrupe Girls Club, which give Saint Ignatius students and girls from area high schools the opportunity to mentor neighborhood kids. It’s just another way that she saw her work of forming students continuing, long after the final school bell rang.
Although many husbands and wives have worked at Saint Ignatius over the years, Jean and Tony are the rare pair who worked in the same department. Their combined service to Saint Ignatius is almost 90 years. That is, in part, why they both received honorary Saint Ignatius diplomas in 2019 (making Jean one of the first two alumnae of Wildcat High).
“They are a unit. They work so well together,” Sabol says. “They really complement each other extremely well. It’s really been a gift to be able to work with both of them for all this time. If you think about the ‘institutions’ of this school, they really are one.”
In part, the Antonellis’ deep understanding of what is important for high school kids is what helped them succeed as teachers in this unusual year. Certainly dealing with new schedules and technology presented challenges, but both of them just kept rolling forward, encouraging and supporting their students along the way.
For those of us who were lucky to have either one of them in the classroom, none of this is surprising. I had Mrs. Antonelli for Math during my freshman and juniors years at Saint Ignatius. She always called me “Kiddo” and it made me feel like she had my back. And although Mr. A became famous for surprise trips to the market to get donuts, Mrs. Antonelli for a time ran a small café out of her classroom, selling hot chocolate and cookies as a fundraiser for the Kevin Healey ’07 fund.
As seniors, some friends and I convinced Mrs. A to be one of the adult leaders for the Kairos retreat we were leading. Although it would mean extra lesson prep and leaving the family at home for a few days, she obliged us and gave a beautiful witness to finding God in all things. Eventually, you consider all these treasured memories that thousands of students throughout the years have had and begin to fully appreciate what a blessing it was to have had such great teachers.
Jean and Tony have raised a wonderful family, and we know that one thing that they are certainly looking forward to in retirement is more time with their own “kiddos”—their children and grandchildren.
We will remain grateful for all they have done to make sure that every student, teacher, or staff member felt like they had a place here. Their family, and the Saint Ignatius family, are one and the same.
by Connor Walters ’09