Going the Distance
Michelle Petrina ’10 Heads South in Pursuit of Her Dream
by Eric Haun ’12
When Michelle Petrina ’10 was in fifth grade, she wrote in her journal that she wanted to teach special education in an elementary school. Quite simply, becoming a teacher is something she always planned to do.
It is no secret that teaching jobs on Long Island are difficult to come by. But with hard work and dedication, many St. Joseph’s College alumni are landing teaching positions.
Nevertheless, earning a coveted teaching job often requires focus, commitment and some looking outside of the box — or in this case, outside of New York State. For Ms. Petrina, this meant looking in Columbia, South Carolina.
“I had connections [on Long Island]: principals and superintendents. But they said all they could do is get me a substitute job,” Ms. Petrina explained. “With my degree, I didn’t want to be a substitute. That’s not what I applied for.”
Holding firm to her ambitions, Ms. Petrina refused to let anything inhibit the fulfillment of her childhood dream. After graduating from SJC’s Long Island Campus in May 2010, she began her search away from Long Island, and by August of that same year, earned a full-time position at John P. Thomas Elementary School.
Outside of New York, Ms. Petrina found an abundance of open teaching positions. “There are teaching jobs out there for people who are willing to move and take that next step,” she said.
For Ms. Petrina, that “next step” has certainly proved fruitful. She has her own students, an assistant and a classroom equipped with NOOKs and a SMART Board. Currently in her third year of teaching, she has loved every minute of it.
When asked what part of her job brings her the most satisfaction, Ms. Petrina replied, “Just seeing my kids succeed with smiles on their faces and actually enjoying school ... They look forward to walking in every morning.”
As an undergraduate student at SJC, Ms. Petrina majored in child study with a concentration in communications. Always involved around campus, she also ran for the Golden Eagle’s cross-country team, completed a work-study in the Office of Admissions, served as an orientation team leader and was an active member in S.T.A.R.S. (Students Taking an Active Role in Society), a community-service club on campus.
But this SJC alumna has not slowed down one bit since moving south. On top of teaching full time, Ms. Petrina also earned a master’s degree in divergent learning from Columbia College.
Like many of the best educators, Ms. Petrina possesses a can-do attitude and approaches the classroom with innovative teaching techniques and practices, tokens of her time at St. Joseph’s.
Ms. Petrina praises St. Joseph’s for enabling her to reap the benefits of a first-rate education. She attributes much of her success to the high standards that SJC expects its students to uphold, stating that St. Joseph’s College prepared her greatly for her career as an educator and even placed her ahead of many other current and potential educators.
The need for qualified teachers in her school district and many others across the country is still present. In fact, the special education department at John P. Thomas is presently in the process of creating a team to recruit and interview current SJC students and alumni. “We need more St. Joe’s teachers down here,” Ms. Petrina said.
“I want to beg people to come because it’s such a wonderful experience — even if they only want to do it for a year. That was my goal: only a year. And then I thought two, then five. I know I’ll still be here after five years. This is home to me now.”
Alumni Spotlight: Michelle Petrina '10
Going the Distance