The Valley Echo

The Valley Echo

The Valley Echo

The Valley Echo

The Valley Echo

The Valley Echo

A look into 14 TCNJ students turned Valley teachers

Maya Schlessinger
14 PV teachers and The College of New Jersey alumni reflect on how their college experience aided in their careers as educators

The College of New Jersey, also known as TCNJ, was founded in 1855. This college has become one of, if not the best school for students who are interested in becoming teachers in the future. Whether they want to teach Pre-K, 5th grade, or 11th grade, TCNJ helps everyone. Here at Pascack Valley, fourteen teachers who attended TCNJ were willing to share their stories.

Danielle DeQuintal: Class of 2019

Major: Elementary Education and I-STEM

Mrs. DeQuintal is a Norwood native and went to high school at Northern Valley Old Tappan Even before high school, she always knew she wanted to become a teacher. DeQuintal’s middle school science teacher had a lasting impact on her. 

“When I got to middle school, I had a fantastic science teacher who was so much fun and encouraged hands-on projects like bottle rockets and 3D models,” DeQuintal said. “I realized that I wanted to teach science because of him.” 

As the college application process began for DeQuintal, TCNJ always stood out to her. Her sister wound up going to TCNJ herself, and DeQuintal knew it was a great school for not only her sister but for herself as well. 

“When I was looking at colleges, I still wanted to go to TCNJ, and she was there, so I visited her. I liked the campus life; I liked the opportunities for education,” DeQuintal said. 

She ended up applying Early Decision for TCNJ, and she did not apply to any other colleges. 

The location of TCNJ also played a role in her decision, TCNJ was around 90 minutes away from home. DeQuintal also knew the benefits of going to college in New Jersey for teaching. “I didn’t want to move somewhere far away, so I figured the best option to get employed in a school would be to teach or go to college in state to teach in state after,” DeQuintal said. 

At TCNJ, she took student teaching style classes from her freshman year, as she would get the feel of teaching in the classroom.

 “[Student teaching style classes] were really helpful for me as an elementary major because I was exposed to elementary, which I ended up not loving. The iSTEM part of my major let me teach K-12 STEM, so that’s why I pursued high school afterward,” DeQuintal said.

At TCNJ, DeQuintal was the President of the Yoga Club, in a sorority called Theta Phi Alpha, and she was a part of the Alternative Break Club. Just like the influence her middle school science teacher had on her own journey, DeQuintal cherishes the opportunity to continually inspire her students every day and have lasting impacts on their own unique journeys.

David Giraldo: Class of 2017

Major: Special Education and STEM Education

Picking to become a Lion at TCNJ wound up being a pretty easy decision for Mr. Giraldo. TCNJ was offering a 5-year master’s and had a STEM program. 

“I had a special opportunity to attend and market myself with a background in math, science, engineering, and technology,” Giraldo said. 

His final three in his college decision process were William Paterson University, Ramapo College, and TCNJ. All three were state schools and did not have a huge price tag which was a factor in his decision. As William Paterson and Ramapo were closer to where Giraldo grew up, which was in Dumont, he picked the farther college, being TCNJ. At the school, he was in Greek life as a part of a fraternity called Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

At TCNJ, Giraldo was able to receive multiple teaching certifications and opportunities, compared to if he had attended William Paterson or Ramapo.

 “TCNJ also had a reputation for its great teaching preparation programs,” Giraldo said.

He knew that TCNJ would give him the best chance to pursue a teaching career in New Jersey.

Growing up though, the finance world was more intriguing for Giraldo. 

“I wanted to work on Wall Street,” Giraldo said.

However, that goal changed in high school when he became more involved in extracurricular activities. His love for teaching spiked during that time.

As it was not until high school that Giraldo found that teaching was for him, he looked to continually help students find their paths after high school. 

Courtney Rems: Class of 2013

Major: Spanish and Secondary Education

PV Spanish teacher Courtney Rems always knew that the teaching profession was suited for her; however, Spanish was not her first intention. She always wanted to teach history and English, but then realized she could teach both by teaching a foreign language.

 “If I teach Spanish, I can teach all the things I love about English, grammar, reading, history, and music,”. Rems said. “That’s kind of the nice thing about teaching foreign language: I’m teaching everything that I like to teach.” After deciding to become a Spanish teacher, Rems applied and was accepted  into Salve Regina, Delaware, Drew, Marist, TCNJ, and Rowan. Her final two came down to TCNJ and Rowan, as none of the other schools were “teaching schools.” Even though Rowan offered her a better scholarship, she wound up picking TCNJ, as they had a teaching program for Spanish.

Another reason for choosing TCNJ was the location of the school. Rems wanted to be near the ocean, and close to home. 

“I knew that I wanted to be at a school where I could be near the ocean, so most of my schools were like northeast space,” Rems said. “My parents also moved from Rivervale after I graduated high school to Toms River, so it was really nice that when I needed to go home I was only about an hour away.” 

At TCNJ, Rems, she was on the swim team, in the Spanish Honors Society, and was a part of a community service group. For teaching, she was in the Secondary Educators Teacher’s Association and was a part of Oral Proficiency Hour, where she taught 50 minute classes.

As Rems teaches all different levels of Spanish at her alma mater high school, she looks to continue teaching everything she loves in a foreign language for students here at Pascack Valley.

Elizabeth Egan: Class of 2012

Major: Mathematics and Secondary Education

When looking at colleges, Egan’s college selection was wide open. Egan wound up applying to 12 schools, but would soon shorten her list to 3 schools: TCNJ, Rutgers, and Providence. Egan wound up deciding on TCNJ with the help of her Pascack Valley teachers. “I had breakfast with Tim Wieland [Current principal at Pascack Hills} and Mr. Lynch, and the three of us went over the pros and cons list of all three places and came to the conclusion that TCNJ would be the best,” Egan said.

TCNJ’s location wound up being very beneficial as well, as Egan could continue the routine of watching New York Giants games with her grandmother. As TCNJ is 90 minutes from where she grew up, a trip home on the weekends was doable for her.

At TCNJ, Egan was a part of the Math and Stat club, Catholic Campus Ministries (CCM), and Alpha Phi Omega (APO). In APO, she was in a group with other people doing community service. 

However, what stood out to Egan most during her time at TCNJ was the relationships she created with the Math Department. Egan was able to create personal relationships with her professors, as she would have dinners with them or study nights, and more things.

 “[It was] To the point that we all knew [professors] by their first names. We also had the opportunity to even have dinner with our professors,” Egan said . “The community feeling was out of this world.” 

Growing up though, Egan was either going to pursue education or Geonatric Nursing. Egan looks to continue making personal relationships with her students here at Pascack Valley, just like the ones she was able to make with her professors.

Anthony Judilla: Class of 2012

Major: Chemistry and Physics

During Judilla’s time at TCNJ, what stood out to him most was the independent research he did under Dr. Wong. In science, it is a requirement to serve under a professor. For Judilla, he did this for two and a half semesters, researching increasing detection measures. 

“My research was involved with increasing detection methods that tell you how healthy or bad your heart is,” Judilla said. “I was actually measuring a new marker called homocysteine, which is a better and earlier indicator for disease.”

From a young age, Judilla knew of TCNJ, as he grew up in Ewing until 8 years old, when he moved to Cherry Hill. Judilla was looking between TCNJ, Delaware, Lehigh, Lafayette, and Drexel. TCNJ was the closest to home, so a trip back home to see family and friends could easily be done.

He knew TCNJ was the best fit, as he had to pay for college himself and knew the opportunities he would get after college would be beneficial. 

“Value was the key determination. I compared what I was offered at other schools and the cost of other schools, and TCNJ was the best,” Judilla said. 

As a student, Judilla was a part of the TCNJ’s track team, but then would go to intramural sports as it was tough to balance sports and academics. He was also a part of the Chemistry Honors Society.

Judilla did not always want to become a teacher either, but was always told by his high school track coach and TCNJ alumnus that he was good with kids. 

“Back to my old high school coach, he actually considered that I try teaching out. He said I was always good with kids and you know, if you have something that you’re good at and you want to share it with others, you should try doing that,” Judilla said.

As Judilla is a science and track enthusiast, he continues to inspire kids in the classroom and on the track. 

Kevin Kibala: Class of 2010

Major: Physics Secondary Education

Kibala was able to create lifelong friendships with some of the people he met at TCNJ. During his freshman year, he was in the towers and had an amazing group of friends he was surrounded by. He also was a part of an Intervarsity Christian Fellowship where he made numerous friends. Looking back, that was one of the many positives and benefits he had from attending TCNJ.

He was choosing between Lafayette College and TCNJ, but with the help of his parents, he was able to land on TCNJ.

 “When I was a high school senior, [TCNJ] was half the cost, so my parents convinced me it was a better idea financially,” Kibala said. “TCNJ was also only an hour away from home, as I grew up in Woodbridge Township, Exit 129 on the parkway, and I wanted to stay close to home, so TCNJ was the better choice.”

At first, Kibala was unsure where his future would take him. He did not always want to be a teacher, as he did like physics, but did not know what to do with it. 

“I was uncomfortable with the computer languages used in the physics lab setting and coding was stressful for me. Some of the higher-level math wasn’t exactly clicking for me either,” Kibala said. “I felt like the material from high school, even Honors Physics, was so easy, so I switched to teaching not knowing if I wanted to be a teacher at all.” 

Kibala took the risk and went into teaching physics, which has worked out extremely well for him at Pascack Valley. He hopes his enthusiastic personality can help students in the classroom to do what they truly want to do, even if they are not sure how it will turn out.

Michela Piccoline: Class of 2010

Major: Biology

When deciding which college to go to, Piccoline was between either going to an Ivy League school, or a state school. Her parents told her if she got into an Ivy League school, they would find a way to pay for it, and if she didn’t, she had to go to a state school. As she did not get into any Ivy League schools, she was between Rutgers and TCNJ. 

“I liked that TCNJ was smaller and the classes didn’t have 300+ student lecture halls,” Piccoline said. “I did well for the TCNJ honors program, which also gave me a merit scholarship to attend.” She always knew it was a competitive and prestigious school, and it was very affordable. At TCNJ, she was a part of an exceptional research program. 

“I was able to work in a lab with a professor and design my own project. We got a lot of individualized attention,” Piccoline said.

At first, Piccoline wanted to go farther from home but realized it was nice to be closer. She was able to see friends and family constantly, as she grew up in Harrington Park and went to NVOT.

At NVOT, she always knew she wanted to become a teacher, but did not major in teaching. She wanted to keep her options open for her collegiate path. At TCNJ, she met her husband, who was an engineer. 

As she works in the science department here at Pascack Valley, she hopes to continue teaching her passion to her students.

Brett Conrad: Class of 2009

Major: Secondary English Education

When Conrad began looking at colleges to attend, he never thought of TCNJ to be his home for the next four years. 

“I didn’t really want to go there, but my mom made me go visit. Then, when I went and visited, I loved it,” Conrad said. “I felt very comfortable there. Once I decided that I wanted to be a teacher, it was kind of the perfect place for me.” 

Conrad was looking between Rutgers and Delaware but ultimately decided on TCNJ. Conrad would also attend a football camp at the college during high school and knew people from his hometown going to The College of New Jersey which was an influence in his decision, alongside the help of his mother. 

When looking at colleges, Conrad knew that he wanted to pay in-state tuition. Paying in-state tuition would be a lot cheaper than going to a school outside of New Jersey. Also, Conrad knew teaching opportunities would arise much easier if he stayed in the state for his four years of college life. 

At TCNJ, he was a member of the intramurals club, along with being the president of his fraternity. He did not want to be a teacher at first, but after his junior year of high school at Kinnelon High School, he knew that he would want to be a teacher. 

As Conrad now teaches at Pascack Valley, his love for all different kinds of English classes truly impacts the students he gets to teach and interact with every single day.

Matthew Morone: Class of 2007

Major: Secondary Education with a Concentration in English

When Morone took his first steps as a TCNJ student, he did not know where this new journey would take him in life. Morone always liked to write and read since his days at Pascack Valley High School but did not know what profession he wanted to pursue. Morone was down to TCNJ and NYU in his college process but ultimately chose TCNJ.

There were 3 factors that made Morone go to TCNJ: I got into the school, it was close to home, and it was cheap. 

“It was near Philly. So if I wanted to go to a city I could,” Morone said. “I also knew it was really a really good English program.” 

At TCNJ, Morone was a part of the English Honors Society, and would also play recreational sports with his friends, but the fieldwork that Morone did at TCNJ really stood out to him. 

For Morone at TCNJ, he student-taught at a Middle School in Trenton, NJ, and also student-taught at Lawrence High School, in Lawrenceville, NJ. These were 2 very different experiences, but he learned from both. Morone first did a mini version of student teaching, which was called a Junior Practicum. 

“I did that at a middle school, which was in a very impoverished area, also called an at-risk area. So that was a very different experience than I was familiar with,” Morone said. “It certainly was not like any school that I had been in before. So that was very eye-opening,” he also added.

After that, Morone would then student teach at Lawrence High School. 

“Teaching here was very much like my Valley experience,” Morone said. “So it kind of just gave a lot of opportunities in terms of like different classrooms to go into.”

As Morone now teaches a fan favorite class here at PV, Philosophy, he looks to continue teaching English and continuing his passion for teaching and impacting the lives of students.

Valerie Santo: Class of 2004

Major: English

Once Santo stepped foot onto the campus of TCNJ, she knew it was the perfect fit for her. She would always tag along on her older sister’s tours and her sister wound up going to TCNJ as well, so Santo was a frequent visitor.

 “I stayed over with her several times and I really just had just a really good feel about the place,” Santo said. “[TCNJ] just felt like a place I would want to spend my time.”   

As Santo attended Dumont High School, the location of TCNJ was a factor in her decision. TCNJ was only around 90 minutes away from Dumont. 

“So I wanted to be far enough away that my parents needed to pick up the phone where they came to visit,” Santo said. “But, I wanted to be close enough that if I wanted to come home to see family or I needed to come home I could.” 

At TCNJ, Santo was involved in Sigma TAU Delta and the Golden Key International Honor Society. During her sophomore year to senior year, Santo was also working in resident halls at TCNJ. During her sophomore year, Santo’s journey in student teaching began.

During her sophomore year, she went into different kinds of classes in different areas. By doing this, she was able to get a good view of all the different types of classrooms and students. In her junior year, Santo student taught for every morning of a semester. In her senior year, she taught for a whole semester. Santo would talk more about student teaching for a whole semester. 

“I felt more confident, You know, because I had already kind of dipped my toe in teaching,” Santo said. “By the time I graduated, I felt very confident in my teaching skills.”

However, growing up, teaching was not the only thing Santo was interested in. Santo also has always had a love for cooking. As Santo could pick up with her cooking aspirations in the future, her focus now is on her students in the classroom here at Pascack Valley.

Russ Grier: Class of 2000

Major: Biology and Secondary Education

Grier, being a Pascack Valley alumni, always strived in the classroom. Grier finished 6th in his class at PV and would have a variety of colleges he applied to. Even though he applied to Cornell and Dartmouth, his final two were between Bucknell and TCNJ. 

“Why go to Bucknell and spend twice the amount of money when I could get the same education for half the price at TCNJ,” Grier said.

As Grier looks back, choosing TCNJ was better for him overall. Grier also talked about the impact of having college friends in Jersey. 

“It’s kind of nice to be able to get together with all your friends. I have friends who live in Hoboken, Paramus and Atlantic City,” Grier said. “And you know, it sounds easy to say like we’ll get together, but life happens.” 

At TCNJ, Grier joined a fraternity, continued playing sports, on the intramural level, joined Knights of Columbus, and was a part of the Biology Honors Society. In the Knights of Columbus, Grier was a part of a catholic men’s group that did community service activities. 

Growing up though, Grier’s last option would be becoming a teacher. Grier thought he wanted to be a doctor growing up but soon realized that path was not for him. 

“I realized that as a doctor with medical school and internship, you really don’t get to start your personal life until you’re about 30,” Grier said. 

Grier then decided teaching was his thing, but dreaded it for the first four months, until December of his first year. 

“I had all my lessons all planned out where everybody’s sitting in rows and raising hands to answer questions, and that just didn’t work for me,” Grier said. “What if I just go in there and have fun? You know, if it doesn’t go exactly the way I planned it, that’s okay. Let’s just have some fun with this.” 

After Grier had a switch in how he would teach, he is currently in year 24 of his passion. 

Bill Weigel: Class of 2000

Major: Health and Physical Education

Weigel had a unique path at TCNJ, as he did not begin his college career at TCNJ. Initially, Weigel was a Division 2 Quarterback at West Chester University. He was also being recruited by Villanova and Stony Brook. It was not until January of 1998, that Weigel transferred to TCNJ. 

“[I] just wanted to be closer to home and I wasn’t getting the joy of Westchester,” Weigel said.  “Also, my older brother went to TCNJ l,” Weigel said. 

At TCNJ, the overall atmosphere and facilities were better than in West Chester, and that is something Weigel noticed. 

“It has a very good athletic reputation as well,” Weigel said. “It has very good facilities. At the time, it was one of the better state school facilities.” 

Growing up, Weigel attended Bergenfield High School and was the starting football quarterback. He always had aspirations to become a teacher, because he always wanted to coach football. Both of Weigel’s sisters became teachers, his father was a teacher and a coach, and his wife was a teacher. The only other career path that crossed Weigel’s mind was becoming a state trooper. 

When looking back at TCNJ, the education that was offered was comparable to an Ivy League education, Weigel said. 

“TCNJ has an outstanding education. Also, people always knew of it as the poor man’s Ivy League school,” Weigel said. “So it was Ivy League education for a public college, and with a price tag back then, it made the school even better.” 

As Weigel was able to achieve his goals of becoming a teacher and coach, he continues to look to educate his students in the classroom and on the football field.

Joe Orlak: Class of 1995

Major: History and Secondary Education

Coming out of Waldwick High School, Orlak did not go to college right away, as he went to the military, which hadn’t been done in his family before. After the military, Orlak went to Bergen Community for a semester, and then enrolled at TCNJ, picking the Lions over Montclair State, Ramapo, and Rutgers.

At TCNJ, Orlak did not live on campus and was a part of a majority of people who were commuters. He described TCNJ as a “suitcase” college. At TCNJ, he was a part of recreational wrestling for a month and a part of the student government. Also, he had small classes and great relationships with his professors.

One relationship that influenced his life was his relationship with the chairman of the social studies department: Professor Karras.  Karras was a Korean War Vet and was one of Orlak’s idols in life. 

“He was six-five and a hulk of man. We had the military in common and he was in the infantry as well,” Orlak said. “We talked about how he was at Santa Anas, so I followed him teaching these classes, which were about ancient Rome, ancient Greece, the Byzantine Empire, Assyrians, all ancient history. I loved the way he taught and his passion.” 

 Orlak always wanted to be a teacher and soldier, and he was able to accomplish both while enjoying every second of the experience. 

“My goals in my life were to be a soldier and a teacher, so I’m two for two,” Orlak said. 

As Orlak has been a leader in both the classroom and the military, he hopes to continue inspiring students with his dedication and passion for teaching and service.

Christie Rossig: Class of 1991

Major: Special Education

At Pascack Valley, Rossig is the founder of Camp Raspberry, which is an interactive program where Valley and Hills students and staff unite with special needs kids. At Bogota High School, where she attended high school, Rossig began working with students with special needs in her senior year. 

At TCNJ, she had the ability to work with students with disabilities. 

“There were a lot of special education schools in the area as well as obviously a lot of public schools for professional programming,” Rossig said. “But Princeton had a school for autism that became multiple schools for autism, which didn’t exist anywhere else.” 

During High School, Rossig first studied languages and wanted to work in international business, but after working with special needs students, she knew that was what she wanted to do in her future. After this realization, she decided to change her major from international business to Special Education when she got to TCNJ.

She chose TCNJ over Rutgers, Fordham, and Montclair State. She had three brothers go to Rutgers and one sister go to Fordham, but she created her own path and chose to become a Lion. At TCNJ, besides her work with special needs students, she was a part of the Friendship Day Club and was a Cheerleader.

Even though her time at Camp Raspberry will be coming to an end this year, her impact on the camp and special needs community at Pascack Valley will never be forgotten. She hopes to still impact students’ lives at Pascack Valley and always be there for every student.

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About the Contributor
Maya Schlessinger
Maya Schlessinger, Editor in Chief
Maya Schlessinger, Pascack Valley senior, is an avid writer of all things PV. Joining the Valley Echo sophomore year, she learned quickly and rose in the ranks to Editor in Chief by senior year. In this time, she has made over forty contributions to the site, ranging from articles to podcasts. Schlessinger lives for telling stories, and she has been writing tales of magical lands since she could first hold a pencil. As a HOBY NJ student ambassador, she put her leadership skills to use when creating a community service sewing club at school, Clothing for a Cause. After school, you can find her baking cookies, playing softball, or listening to Taylor Swift.  

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