Interview: KATHY BRINSKELLE - JuniperCivic.com
Serving Middle Village and Maspeth since 1938.

Originally published in the March 2012 Juniper Berry Magazine

Interview: KATHY BRINSKELLE

KATHY BRINSKELLE

This interview was conducted after school on a Friday afternoon in a small office at St. Margaret's.

I understand the last day of Catholic Schools Week was February 5th. What is Catholic School Week?

Catholic School Week is a celebration of who we are. It celebrates all the people who go to Catholic School, and it's also to make other people aware that we're here and what we're all about.

How was Catholic Schools Week?

It was great! We had an opening Mass on the first Sunday, then did something every day like Sport's Day, Student Day, and had an Open House, where people interested in sending their children to St. Margaret's could come in and tour the school with Dr. Franco. And by the way, we're opening a Nursery School here next year. That was Dr. Franco's idea.

Why did you become a teacher?

I always liked children. I started thinking about becoming a teacher when I was working at Creedmoor and helping people. And I did look back at some of the teachers I had and some of them were really good, and some of them I said to myself that I could be a better teacher.

What is the most rewarding about being a teacher?

I think it's when you see someone getting excited by something you said and you see the interest and see that it registers in someone's eyes. Or to actually see someone that you've had all year who is shy and quiet and come out of their shell a little bit and just to know that you helped them grow along the way. A lot of people don't realize that when a class leaves you, like for summer vacation, we actually feel like we lose a part of us. It's tough since we've been with these people for 180 days and we've shared their lives, and sometimes children tell you things that they don't want to tell other people, and of course if it's something anybody should know, we tell them.

What is most challenging about being a teacher?

I'm not much of a science person, it's not my favorite subject. But when I taught Science in the third grade, not at this school, I thought it was one of the best subjects I ever taught because I tried so hard and I didn't want anybody to know that I didn't like the subject. It was challenging to teach something that you don't like. I like teaching Social Studies, but every now and then there might be something that's not too exciting, and it's a challenge to get somebody interested.

My next-door neighbors are Catholic and have a wonderful one year-old daughter and are debating whether to send their daughter to St. Margaret's or to a public school. My daughter's experience at St. Margaret's was certainly rewarding and beneficial and we would recommend this school to anyone. Why would you?

I would recommend it if they felt comfortable about having their child exposed to a Christian atmosphere all day. As you know from my background, I could be teaching at a public school. What always bothers me is when people ask, why are you teaching at a Catholic School? as if to say that I'm not educated enough to teach at a public school. Now, there's nothing wrong with public schools, but the difference is I'm Catholic, I went to all Catholic Schools except for my Masters, and when I first student-taught in a public school, for me, I wasn't comfortable. There was nothing wrong with it, I just felt like a fish out of water. And the difference is that as teachers we are all doing the same thing as far as helping children reach their full potential and meet the state standards that we are supposed to meet. The difference is we are doing it here at St. Margaret's with Catholic teaching rooted in the Gospels. And it's like we are a family here. We have nine full time teachers and six of them have been here longer than I. I've been teaching twenty-one years and I've been at St. Margaret's for fifteen years because you stay here and you feel like you're a part of a family. Once people come her either as a teacher or student, they love the family atmosphere and don't want to leave. Also, all the teachers here are very experienced.

We do have some children that left St. Margaret's, I guess for financial reasons. Listen, I can't blame people who have three or four children, who suddenly can't afford to keep them in Catholic School. And I have heard that the few children that have left here and who have gone to, say, PS 49 were all put in honor's programs. So the education we provide here is an excellent one, it's just unfortunate that in this economy sometimes parents lose their jobs or suffer from some other financial hardship. And if they do and speak out, St Margaret's will try to work something out. Some parents don't like to say that they they're in financial need. But if you have a child here that's in, let's say, sixth or seventh grade and the parents' lose a job, we try to help. That's what Catholic school is all about, to help each other out when times are tough.

Who is currently the Principal and what is he like?

He is Dr. Franco and he's very nice, open to all ideas, a good listener, and what the teachers and parents like about him is that he has an open door policy. He always has time for you

Do you keep in contact with your students after they graduate?

The children that stay in contact with me are usually the ones that had to move in the middle of the year, to let's say Florida or some other place, and for some reason they need a connection, they will write to me on and off for a while, and then send an occasional Christmas Card.

As you know, my daughter graduated in 2001 along with your son. Have the school, the students or the faculty, changed in any way?

Just the Principals, your daughter, Laura was here when Sister Bridget was Principal. Then we had another Principal, Sister Rena, who stayed here three years. And now we have Dr. Franco. And every Principal brings a little bit of their own personality and a little change in the rules. But, basically things don't change that much because you always have to be following the curriculum, and we're all accountable for the state tests.

And by the way, we did very well on the New York State Math Test last year. Our sixth graders were in the 93 percentile. The City and State and the rest of the Diocese were in the sixty percentile. I'm very proud of that. I was teaching sixth grade Math last year.

Is there anything you would like to see changed at St. Margaret's?

No. I wouldn't have stayed here so many years if I thought anything should be changed

Is there anything in the community that you would like to see changed?

I'd rather stay away from that question. I always hold back on giving my opinion. Even in the classroom I'll have current events and I always hold back from giving my opinion to the children. If I give my opinion about any issue, there is going to be at least one child in that class who says, she's a teacher, she has to be right. And I have a responsibility to encourage children to think on their own.

In one word, how would you describe your fellow teachers?

Reliable and dependable.

In one word, how would you describe your students?

Enthusiastic

In one word, how would you describe you?

Organized.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not teaching?

I enjoy reading. Reading what I like and not what I have to read.

Apart from the Bible, what books would you recommend reading? I love the book, North and South by John Jakes. Last summer, I read a book about reincarnation after my dog, Dakota had died called, A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron. A story about how dogs change our lives, and I just loved it.

I ask this question of everyone I interview. Who would you like to meet?

The author of North and South, John Jakes, since he likes history and I like history. I wouldn't want to meet a politician.

What would we be surprised to know about Mrs. Brinskelle?

I know it sounds strange for my age and being settled, that I have a desire to go back to school for another career working with animals as a vet technician. I know it's not going to happen, but I do have a secret desire to work as a vet technician.

I know you are an avid pet lover who recently lost you dog, Dakota. Why do you think people become so attached to their pets?

I think because our schedule revolves around them. My life for twelve and a half years was the alarm clock going off so that I could get dressed early to feed Dakota, and then take him to the park before work. Now I have an hour and a half extra in the morning and more time in the afternoon. I still haven't gotten over losing him, but I think I gave him a good life and a good last day.

I am about to graduate from St. Margaret's. What advice would you be giving me about going to high school? Freshman year in high school is a very difficult time because you're getting adjusted to a whole new way of life, and I told this to my own children, take it easy the first year, prove yourself, then go all out for the honors courses. I know a lot of people start high school and some people have a hard time adjusting to it and the grades slip. And you can't tell young people not to get too caught-up in the social scene because they won't listen. Take it slow and don't feel as though you have to accomplish everything in one year.

Thank you, Kathy.