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Convocation fires up faculty and staff for school year
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Richmond Hill Primary School teachers and staff stand and cheer as the convocation begins. - photo by Photo by Paul Floecker

Anna Washinger can recall wanting to be a teacher since she was 5 years old.

“I would make my cousins and my brother sit in our playroom, and I would be the teacher,” she said.

Now, Washinger has a real classroom to call her own. The Georgia Southern University graduate’s first teaching job is instructing first-graders at Richmond Hill Primary School.

Washinger joined employees from all Bryan County schools Friday for a rousing start to the school year. They showed their school spirit at the annual pep rally-style convocation in the Richmond Hill Middle School gym.

Representatives from each school, as well as the central office and transportation department, decked out in matching shirts and sat together in their designated section of the bleachers. They were cheering and clapping well before the program began.

“It’s invigorating. It makes you nothing but proud,” Bryan County Schools Superintendent Paul Brooksher said. “They feed off each other, the excitement. We have a great team.”

The school principals introduced their newcomers one at a time at the convocation. Washinger is one of about 75 new teachers hired by the school district this year, according to Brooksher.

“I don’t know if I can sum up into words how excited I am,” Washinger said. “Your first class will always have a place in your heart.”

School leaders saluted the district’s veteran educators as well.

“We have some of the most highly-qualified staff in the state of Georgia in our district,” Richmond Hill Middle Principal William McGrath said. “We’re proud of all of you.”

Brooksher began having the convocation when he came on board as superintendent three years ago. For the third straight year, Richmond Hill High School social studies teacher Keith Forkin served as emcee.

“It’s good fun,” Forkin said, before joking, “Nothing like 1,100 people, and the people who sign your paycheck, watching you.”

Much to her surprise, Washinger wound up being much more involved in the convocation than she had anticipated. Guest speaker Tim Piccirillo asked her to assist with a magic trick as part of his motivational talk, making the first-year teacher part of the show in front of more than a thousand colleagues.

“I had no idea (that would happen),” she said with a laugh. “I was only made aware of the fact that I would just have to stand up and be introduced and sit back down.”


Magic of Teaching

Piccirillo explained that a teacher’s magical moment “saved (his) life” when he was “this close” to being suicidal as a teenager.

Having Tourette’s Syndrome made Piccirillo’s life miserable. However, it was the 1970s and much less was known then about Tourette’s than is now.

The nervous system disorder caused his body to make sudden, uncontrollable movements. The tics happened so frequently that Piccirillo’s muscles ached and he had difficulty sleeping, he said.

Even worse, Piccirillo had a biting tic, meaning he couldn’t stop biting the inside of his mouth. His cheeks were so swollen that he couldn’t eat solid food and became emaciated, he said.

It led to an anxiety disorder and depression. In pain and exhausted, he was spending 20 hours a day on the couch or in bed as a 15-year-old, he said.

“I remember screaming out to God, ‘Take this away from me or kill me because I can’t take the pain anymore,’” Piccirillo recalled.

But then one day at school, his typing teacher, John Lovell, did a simple magic trick of making a shiny silver dollar “appear” from Piccirillo’s typewriter. The teenager was thrilled by his teacher’s simple gesture to spend a couple minutes with the self-described “weird kid” at school.

“He didn’t see the Tourette’s,” Piccirillo said. “He looked beyond that. He took an interest. He believed in me, like my parents did, when I didn’t believe in myself.”

Piccirillo spent time with Lovell after school learning other sleight-of-hand tricks, and he began doing magic shows of his own. He’s still using the tricks to entertain, as part of the motivational talks he gives across the country.

Piccirillo told the teachers they have the ability to make the same difference to a student that Lovell did to him four decades ago.

“I’m astounded at the energy here. You’re so fired up,” he said. “It just warmed my heart when I came in. That’s the kind of energy, that’s the kind of caring that gets kids like me through.”

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