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Farewell to Molenariville: A teacher appreciation


Retiring Mill Creek Elementary School teacher James Molenari transformed his classroom into a place students would never forget: Molenariville.

Molenari’s love for Jimmy Buffett was no secret. Parrots decorated the room. “Cheeseburger in Paradise” became an inspiration for a writing project. His weekly newsletter is “The Coconut Telegraph.” Students worked hard on their all-important “Big Kahuna” presentations.

On Mar. 14, the Central Bucks School Board approved Molenari’s retirement. School board member Tabitha Dell’Angelo commented that although she’d never met Mr. Molenari, she would always remember Molenariville and the way in which he celebrated his students.

The impact that Molenari, a lifelong Central Bucks resident with 35 years of teaching experience, has had on students runs deep.

A member of Molenari’s first class in 1989, Alice Ciocca remembered later nominating him in local bakery Nothing Bundt Cakes’ outstanding teachers contest. Molenari ended up winning.

“It has been amazing to be able to follow Mr. Molenari all these years later and see all the accomplishments and the mark he has made in CBSD,” Ciocca said.

Former student Kathryn Bassion recalled being in Molenari’s first third grade class at Mill Creek when the school opened in 2000.

“I remember him acknowledging this significance for us, and himself, and how he characterized our year as an adventure that we would figure out together” Bassion said. “He mentioned how he hoped that we would be able to reunite, look back, and remember the year as something special.”

Bassion said Molenari went the extra mile to “support her voracious appetite for books.” He allowed her to extend her “March Madness” reading challenge and gave her higher level spelling words.

She fondly recalls Egypt Day where the classroom created a live simulation of ancient Egyptian society, an experience that touched Bassion so much so that she skipped her junior prom and her 16th birthday to visit Egypt with her mother in 2009.

Molenariville was born when Bassion and her mom altered the lyrics of Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville.”

“I had zero idea it would turn into what it has but am so glad it was an inspiration for him,” she said. “I visited several years ago and was very touched that it had become a legendary theme for his classroom and students.”

Bassion called Molenari “a spectacular educator.”

“I’m sad that his magic won’t be in the classroom anymore, but he deserves a restful retirement.”

Another former student, Shannon Whalen said she can’t see a parrot or hear a Jimmy Buffet song without thinking of him.

“My dad passed away the summer before third grade, so I entered Molenariville still grieving heavily,” Whalen said. “Mr. Molenari became not only my teacher, but a strong male influence for me. I had a lot of trouble completing schoolwork and turning in assignments because of my mental health, but Mr. Molenari was always so understanding and never gave up on me when I felt like giving up on myself.”

Molenari pushed Whalen to join Reading Olympics and enter the district art show.

“Did I always know that I wanted to be a teacher? No,” Molenari said. “But, without a doubt, it was the right decision for me.”

Molenari said he’s proud of his 35 years in the classroom, his National Board Certification through the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards and the distinction of being, at various times, a Central Bucks student, parent and faculty member.

“I kiddingly like to say, ‘I’m relevant in a lot of conversations regarding education in this district’,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a myriad of excellent classroom teachers during my tenure. Teaching is such a collaborative profession, and we learn from each other, often borrowing ideas to make them their own.”

Asked what he’d tell young people entering the elementary education field, Molenari said to keep the focus where it belongs — on the children.

“There is a lot of outside noise right now, and you have to do your best to block it out,” he said. “Get to know your students. Build trust. In general, build strong relationships not just with your students, but the parents of your students, your colleagues and your community....It is easy to forget that we are teaching individual children, not subjects, and not test-taking.”

He said that he will miss seeing his teaching family every day.

“When you work this close together for this long, your colleagues become family. Of course, I will miss the students.” Molenari joked. “Where else will I find a captive audience for my dad jokes, poor singing and anecdotal stories?”

One week after retirement, Molenari said he will be going fishing with friends on Cape Cod then starting a baseball stadium tour in July with his nephew, Sam. Later in the summer, he will be touring Europe with his wife, Stacey.

“My plan right now is to spend a lot of time traveling,” he said. “As for jobs, well, if you know the movie Forrest Gump, it would fit me well if I could find a job that has me cutting the athletic fields as I ride a lawn tractor just like Forrest did in the movie.”

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