By ARDEN BASTIA There have been teachers who motivate and mentor, who provide guidance and valuable lessons, but there is no one that inspires quite like Pilgrim High School technology teacher Cheryl DelSanto. DelSanto has recently been nominated for
There have been teachers who motivate and mentor, who provide guidance and valuable lessons, but there is no one that inspires quite like Pilgrim High School technology teacher Cheryl DelSanto.
DelSanto has recently been nominated for the 2020-2021 national LifeChanger of the Year award. Her daughter, Sarah, nominated her.
“Cheryl is committed to making technology education accessible and exciting for all,” Sarah said in an email. “She has changed so many lives by caring about her students and her content area. She works extremely hard to make sure that all of her students are able to succeed, and serves as a role model for many young women in technology education.”
The national award recognizes public school K-12 educators and employees who are making a difference in the lives of students by exemplifying excellence, positive influence, and leadership.
A panel of education experts from across the country judges the LifeChanger of the Year Award, and winners are announced later in the year.
As a nominee, DelSanto has the opportunity to win a cash prize of up to $10,00 to be shared with Pilgrim High School.
DelSanto has been teaching for 25 years, and this is her third year at Pilgrim High School, teaching woodshop, electricity, architecture, engineering, and other technology education classes.
Her passion for education and hands-on learning exudes, as DelSanto bounced around her classroom pointing out new, state-of-the-art equipment purchased from an $87,000 Champlin Foundation grant awarded in 2019.
DelSanto’s classroom is in a former automotive garage, and when she first started teaching at Pilgrim, the room didn’t have tables or shelves. So she and her students built some. “When I first came here, everything was just thrown in boxes. So we built two cabinets. My awesome woodworking kids built partitions so the electrical kids can understand switches and outlets.”
DelSanto said as she gestured to jigs and table saws where students are able to make their own skateboards. She pointed out a new piece of equipment, the Epilog Laser, that allows students to laser engrave and cut wood or metal.
“What will be really cool is for kids to be able to understand the difference and going from old traditional woodworking to the 21st century. So when they graduate, if they get into a company, they’ll already understand how to use the equipment and what it’s capable of,” she said.
Last Wednesday was DelSanto’s first time teaching students in her classroom since last March when the pandemic first hit.
During distance learning, DelSanto utilized her own home workshop to create video tutorials of power tools and electrical equipment. She used her laptop and a cart on wheels to give students the best experience she could.
“We really love our tools, my husband’s just like me,” she said in an interview. “And what I did at home, my daughter used to laugh at me. She’s like, ‘I can’t believe how hard you work.’ I’m at the band saw cutting something out, and then I look into the screen, and I’m like ‘Okay hold on a minute, I know this is a crazy roller coaster ride, but we’re going over to the next machine.’ So it was really hard. Everyday I felt like I couldn’t do enough because [my students] can’t.”
She reinforced the ideas in these lessons by finding online simulations in which students could experience engineering concepts without being in the classroom.
“The kids light up when they’re able to use the equipment to make something themselves,” she said.
While DelSanto says she’s “honored” about the award, it’s not why she teaches. “I really love to teach. It was miserable for me, to be out of the classroom. I was so excited to come back in and actually start working with the kids. I just love what I do, and I love helping the kids.”
Last school year, DelSanto was a senior project mentor for 11 students, and describes some of the projects she provided guidance on.
“One student made a beautiful doghouse. I mean, shingles and everything. I had one student make an electric guitar with me. Not only did he do all the woodworking, but he also took my electricity class. He did all the soldering and the electrical,” she said, animated and full of excitement. “This one girl, she was just so excited about the stuff I was showing her, so she really got the disease for it. And I know the feeling. This kid, I think she came here three times, to pick up sandpaper and scrap wood.”
DelSanto is passionate about inspiring students to take woodshop and electrical classes, particularly motivating girls to join. “I want my students to feel empowered. I will do everything I can to help them get here. I really like helping the kids transition from high school. You know, I remember that time and it was really scary and hard,” she said.
“I look forward to each day of work. And when I was at home, I couldn’t help it, I was preparing lessons,” she says.
Should she win $10,000, DelSanto plans on putting right back into her classroom.
“I would love to buy some additional equipment for the classroom. The students need workstations for wood burning, soldering, plus the tools of course,” she said. “We’re in desperate need of cordless drills and drill bits.”
DelSanto listed other additions to the classroom that would benefit her students, like a fume extractor, dust collector, vacuum cleaners, and, of course, sandpaper.
Although she only has five years or so until retirement, DelSanto is hopeful she doesn’t have to. Laughing, she said, “They’re going to have to kick this old lady out.”