Kudos to Bainbridge Educator of the Year Liz Finin of Odessey and the Nun Who Helped Change My Life!

Most of us have had a teacher or two in our lives that influenced us in a positive way, or perhaps helped set the course for the rest of our lives. Or, even more so, left such an indelible mark that we think about that person to this day.

Teacher Liz Finin receives Educator award from Kiwanis President John Jay

I have a mixed bag of those experiences and emotions. When I was a junior in high school, attending a Catholic, aka Parochial, school in Syracuse, N.Y., I was taught by a nun who gave me a compliment that eventually led to my career choice of becoming a journalist and would-be writer. It came about from an assignment that probably doesn’t happen very often – if at all – in today’s academic circles.

Sister Bernadette, who was somewhat hip for a nun back in 1970 or thereabouts, asked us to compare Operas – you heard it right, Operas! – and write a report on them, contrasting and comparing their main characters, themes, and so on. I don’t remember all the details of how I ended up choosing Don Juan (or Don Giovanni by Mozart) and Madam Butterfly by Giacoma Puccini, but those were the two plays I read about from a large tome in the school’s library.

Again, my memory is sketchy, but I do recall enjoying the stories and taking notes on both operas to use in my forthcoming essay. Anyways, after handing it – in long-hand, by the way – I didn’t think anything of it. Then Sister Bernie, as we called her, stood up in front of the class one day and reminded us of the operas, as she held the corrected papers in her hands. There was a collective moan across the class. I was dreading this moment, and was anticipating a low grade, for sure. I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed and struggled most of the time to maintain a C+/B- average. For some reason or another, I always did okay in English, though.

Liz Finin surrounded by Kiwanis Club supporters

Bernie passed out the papers individually to each student. She laid mine on my desk and whispered, “did you write this?” I was thinking in the moment, ‘what does she mean? Does she think I cheated or something’. After a second or so, I said nervously, “Yes, sister, I did.” “That’s very good,” she said. “You have a gift. … I gave you an A- because there were some spelling and grammatical errors, but otherwise good job.”

I was stunned. I never had a teacher, or a coach for that matter, ever complement me to this degree. It was a boost of confidence, and just enough recognition of some laden talent that I might possess that led me a few years down the road to walk into my college newspaper office and begin my life as an aspiring journalist.

Whether they know it or not, teachers can have an amazing influence on the growth and development of their students. Some kids – who might otherwise get lost, like I might have – can find their way in the world, just on the kind word or two of a caring and thoughtful teacher. That’s why we celebrate teachers, and why service clubs like Bainbridge Island Kiwanis Club honor one every year.

This year’s recipient is Liz Finin, a teacher at Odessey Multiage Program school, adjacent to Bainbridge High School. Finin, who is retiring after 36 years on the job, received 19 nominations out of the 75 submitted to the Kiwanis. “She received many wonderful nominations from students, parents and fellow teachers,” said Kiwanis Club President John Jay prior to handing Finin a check for $500. “She’s made a significant impact on a lot of people’s lives.” This is the 18th year in a row that the Kiwanis has honored an outstanding teacher.

Scholarship Awards Night at Bainbridge High School

Finin’s nomination forms are replete with amazing kudos to her nearly four decades of teaching: “Liz is one of the most brilliant teachers we have encountered in both our kids’ education … She is creative, thoughtful, innovative and insightful. … She pushes the kids enough to stretch them, but creates an environment in which questioning, failing (and) growing is the norm.”

“With over 35 years of dedicated service, Liz has been an inspirational figure, positively impacting the lives of countless students, including my own. … Liz is not just an educator; she is an exceptional one. (Her) commitment to our school and our students is unparalleled. … Liz brings love, creativity, and innovation into the classroom every day.  Her teaching methods are not only effective but also engaging and enjoyable for her students.”

“Liz’s impact on her students is profound. She is loved and admired by all who have had the privilege of being in her classroom.”

A few days later at Bainbridge High School, hundreds of students, faculty, parents and families attended the BHS Class of 2024 Scholarship Award Program. Some eight Awards were presented to students, including 15 Valedictorians, National Merit Scholarship Finalist, Scholar Athletes and the like, and 34 or more scholarships from service clubs like Kiwanis and Rotary to a slew of scholarships presented by families and businesses and organizations such as the Masonic Lodge, Windermere Real Estate, the Bainbridge Community Foundation and many more.

Said Kiwanis member Chris Miller, “People should realize that these are the organizations that support our community and make it great. They don’t often get enough credit or recognition.”

To learn more about the Bainbridge Island Kiwanis Club, visit: https://www.bikiwanis.org

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