Mr. Frio honored by former student

Sasha Pansovoy

Social studies teacher Mr. Frio received the Gideon Hawley Teacher Recognition Award at Union College on February 26. Priscilla Wright, a Wayland High graduate and freshman at Union College, nominated her senior year social studies teacher for the award. Named after New York State’s first superintendent, an 1809 graduate of Union College, the Gideon Hawley Teacher Recognition Award is given to a teacher who has continual influence on a student’s academic performance at Union College.

Mr. Frio was granted the award as part of Union College’s annual “Founders Day Thursday” celebration. This year’s ceremony began by honoring the college’s role during the abolitionist movement and featured James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Civil War historian. During the ceremony, a portrait of Moses Viney, a runaway slave from Maryland who escaped to Schenectady, New York on the Underground Railroad, was unveiled in Union College’s Memorial Chapel.

Mr. Frio said of the day, “The ceremony was beyond any of my expectations. My wife and I had breakfast and lunch with Priscilla, and she was on stage with me for the presentation.” Mr. Frio said he thoroughly enjoyed the experience. “Overall, a fabulous two days that made me feel valued as a teacher and as someone the professors thought worthy of talking to about teaching.”

Priscilla Wright also liked the time with Mr. Frio. “The ceremony was amazing. I was very happy Mr. Frio won. It was very nice to get to spend the day with him and his wife. I talked with him a lot about some of the racism and sexism I’ve experienced at college, and it was just nice to be able to talk about those issues with him.”

Mr. Frio acknowledged that most teachers rarely get recognition for their hard work with students. According to Mr. Frio, high school teachers get more praise and recognition for helping students than do middle and elementary school teachers. When his own daughter was in school, Mr. Frio annually called the principal of her current school to compliment her teachers. Mr. Frio also spoke about an influential teacher he once had. “Yes, there was a Mr. Napolitano in 9th grade who made me feel smart,” he began. “Italian kids were not expected to be intelligent. He even contacted my parents and offered to help me get into a prestigious exam school in Providence. My parents gave me the choice, which I declined, but it felt good to know he thought I was worthy. My parents stayed in touch with him and his wife, and I was able to let him know how much I had benefited from his belief in me. It felt good to write him that letter.”

In Priscilla Wright’s senior year of high school, she took Psychology, Race and Crime with Mr. Frio. Wright said that she nominated Mr. Frio “because he is absolutely the best teacher I’ve ever had. Most classes I learn things to get good grades, to get into college etc., but with Mr. Frio’s class I will take what I learned from him with me for the rest of my life. He completely opened my eyes to the racism, sexism, and other prejudices around me. Because of Mr. Frio, I had a new respect for people, and I stand up for not only myself, but others. I really think that if everyone took Mr. Frio’s Race class in particular, then the world would be a much better place.”

When asked what made Mr. Frio different from her other teachers, Wright said, “Well I think the biggest difference is that he understands his students very well. He ‘got me,’ if that makes any sense. I just knew he understood where I was coming from and how I felt. This made it very, very easy for me to talk to him about anything — class, friends, home — anything. I would come early to class or leave late, or stay after school to talk to him because he was the first adult who understood high schoolers and didn’t judge them. He never judged any of his students, so we could be honest about taboo subjects like drugs, sex, alcohol, parties, anything. We all trusted him. A teacher like Mr. Frio is rare!”