Marías at Sampaguitas
It takes a special teacher by April Frances Federico
I remember on the last day of fifth grade, Mrs. Lowerre read to my class, a picture book by Patricia Polacco titled Thank you, Mr. Falker. Just a couple of days before that, she had written in my yearbook, “maybe one day I will read a book you wrote in the future!”
That’s right, I remember fifth grade like it was just yesterday. My childhood best friend, Zoe, came in late on the first day because the bus neglected to come to her apartment complex. I had my first legitimate crush that year; no, it was not Chaz even though he spread that petty rumor in December. It was Bill, and yes, he wound up finding out in sixth grade. No, we did not end up together – not even close.
That same year, I was being tested upon tested for a learning disability, only for faculty to find out that I had the vocabulary expansion of an eighth grader. I do have a learning disability: test anxiety. Yes, that’s an actual thing. I require extra time on tests and quizzes, only to have been discriminated against by my private school teachers and having received a comment by one of my Mount Alvernia peers: “April takes, like, six years!” That still hits a sharp nerve four years later.
But Mrs. Lowerre, when I sent that email to you, when I was still enrolled at Saint Anselm College in my first sophomore year (I repeated my sophomore year and continued my education at Roger Williams University). Would you have ever thought that I had given up on writing? Once? A couple of hundred times? The answer to that is a definite and firm yes, to which I am still squeamish about. Why squeamish? Again, I was never to one to care about what someone or a group of people thought of me.
I may have been bad at math and science, up until high school. But the one thing that remained constant was writing. In sixth grade, I wrote a memoir about my cousin, Alessia’s First Holy Communion and how it opened my eyes to the importance of faith and family – a large, Italian one at that! I wanted to know how to write the perfect story, which was what I told Ms. Kirby, my English teacher. That was also the year I was reintroduced to poetry. Mrs. Lowerre, I know I got a C on the poetry exam, but I promise there is an upside to that mild inconvenience. The teacher I had before you, Mrs. Lowerre, in fourth grade: Mrs. Curran saw my knack for it, and we even had a poet come visit us weekly during the month of April.
Moreover, in sixth grade we had to compile a poetry book. I heart sank as I looked at the B+ on the ever-so-dreaded rubric. Questioning if writing was really for me, I didn’t give up, even when my dad was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in seventh grade. Keeping up with reading assignments in English was tough, and Mrs. Ayers literally came over to me during a quiz and asked if I were reading while AIM-ing. I didn’t have the disrespect to say no, because I trusted that my guidance counselor told my teachers about my dad’s cancer diagnosis. I didn’t find out until I visited Mrs. Muscatell, my seventh-grade science teacher, my junior year of high school who said that information was not “passed on.” Funny because my four-month mono diagnosis in eighth grade was, indeed, passed on.
High school was different. I began to dread English and History classes at my new all-girls private school. Why? I felt as though my writing was not good enough. Visual Arts, Chemistry, Math, and Spanish were my favorite subjects. I even won the Karen Klein McNulty Memorial Art Scholarship my junior year and the Wellesley College Book Award for service and leadership. As much as I loved being a leader, I was never elected to student council but I was a Liturgy Team Coordinator and an editor of the yearbook.
College is when everything changed. I came into Saint Anselm as a Chemistry major, only to switch to Biology, back to Chemistry, Fine Arts, Sociology and Spanish, and then finally English and Spanish. One could say it was difficult to find out who I really was, because I spent a lot of that time trying to please my emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend who took everything out of me and made me feel unworthy. He wasn’t the only one who made me feel that way. Professors did, and even my friend group did. The only friend who didn’t, was my best friend, Katelyn. Then came March 2017, I took my second leave of absence from school, and did want to go back. Mrs. Lowerre, this was indeed after I had emailed you in December 2016.
During my leave of absence, I looked at and toured schools. I put down English for RIC, Journalism for URI, and ultimately settled on Creative Writing for RWU. That was what I wanted because during that tumultuous time, I diverted my attention fully to, guess what, poetry!
Now I am in my senior year at Roger Williams, and I am on track to graduate with honors, majoring in Creative Writing with minors in Arts Management and Visual Arts. Also, I am a member of the Student Senate – who would have predicted that? Who also would have predicted that I’d be not only a poet, but a published poet and artist, as well as an editor for Teen Belle? Additionally, I wrote my very first chapbook? Mrs. Lowerre predicted all that, I’m sure. And it takes a special teacher to do just so. So I say, thank you, Mrs. Lowerre, for believing in me.
April Frances Federico is an up-and-coming poet, journalist, activist, and visual artist. She has a specific ardor for women's rights and Title IX issues. She is a huge literature nerd studying Creative Writing with minors in Arts Management and Visual Arts at Roger Williams University. She is also the voice behind The April Diaries and her work has been published in Rose Quartz, Ayaskala, honey & lime lit, Kissing Dynamite, Satin Soulbits, and HEAL(er) Mag.