The best teachers are those who foster a special connection with their students, and Bielefield Elementary Principal Renata Lantos has done just that for 13 years.
At Monday’s retirement picnic sponsored by the Bielefield PTA, child after child came up to hug Lantos and to sit beside her.
“She’s funny, loving, nice and special,” said third-grader Amanda Perrotta, 9. “I remember she was real nice. She was always special to everyone,” said kindergartner Claire Hadley, 6.
Lantos, who will leave at the end of the school year next week, says the feeling is reciprocated.
“I don’t think there’s another place like Bielefield. Look at the parent community. They’re tremendously dedicated, they make a huge difference. It’s a very connected staff; the kids are tremendous.”
“There’s no other profession,” Lantos said, “where you can get smiles, get hugs, get silly with the kids. They’re wonderful.”
Fourth-grade teacher Bonnie Gaboury said Lantos waited until studies were nearly finished before announcing her retirement. “She’s classy that way.”
“I was nervous when I first took the job, but once I started here, she just took me under her wing and got me on this committee and involved me in that and taught me a lot.
I have to say, my son said to me when I told him that she was retiring, ‘oh, mom, it’s too bad. She’s really nice when she’s not mean,’” Gaboury laughed.
Lantos says leaving will be bittersweet.
“That’s been the toughest part. I look at the faces and I say, ‘How can I leave them and not see them?’”
That sentiment was echoed tenfold during the unveiling of a special project after the picnic — a video of the staff, teachers and children — singing, offering their well-wishes and reciting poetry.
The idea of creating something to mark Lantos’s leaving began with Gaboury. “Wouldn’t it be cool to do a video of having the kids interact at a grade level and do something. And then someone had said we could do songs. I said, ‘is there anyone other than parents or teachers that could do it?’”
That’s when PTA member Ellie Gagnon stepped forward. “I have a client who is an employee at [Middlesex Hospital] and she was telling me about what they did … I said. ‘Oh, my god! That’s what we need to do.’”
Last month, Middlesex Hospital staff organized a huge, Today Show-inspired lip-synched video when their longtime vice president of nursing announced her retirement.
The Bielefield shoot, produced by the Middletown High School BlueTube Club, took four hours to tape and the final length is 20 minutes.
“The PTA will make a donation to the BlueTubes for doing it,” Gagnon said.
Upon viewing, the film elicited laughter and cheers as children in the gymnasium sang along with the songs they had learned for Lantos.