Teacher Feature: Ms. Lafionatis, Learning Specialist

Welcome to our Teacher Feature! This week, we talk to Ms. Melissa Lafionatis, Learning Specialist at Grace. Ms. Lafionatis joined our faculty in the fall of 2018 and has jumped right in, working with all students in all classes and also serving as co-sponsor of Student Council this year.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up right down the street from Grace in Chevy Chase, and went to CCUMC for preschool, Blessed Sacrament for elementary and middle school, and Visitation for high school. For college, I attended the University of Kentucky (go Wildcats!), where I got a degree in Merchandising, Apparel, and Textiles.

My first job out of college was with Crate and Barrel. It was really interesting, but I realized that retail was not for me. I was drawn to working with children and got a job as a first grade assistant teacher at Holy Trinity. My aunt, who is a reading specialist, encouraged me to look into becoming a speech and language pathologist, so I got my masters at JMU.

I love college basketball (go Wildcats! — again), reading, photography, and painting, specifically watercolors. And I’m happiest when I’m at the beach.

How long have you been teaching?
This is my eighth year of teaching: I worked two years as an assistant teacher, and then five years at the Harbour School in Baltimore as a speech pathologist. I realized that my favorite thing about that job was collaborating with other teachers and working across a school to make the most effective environment for everyone, so I started looking for a position that would allow me to do that.

What brought you to Grace?
I found the job posting for Learning Specialist at Grace, and it looked perfect. I had heard great things about Grace while growing up and had a neighbor who attended and loved it. When I came for my interview, I fell in love with the community.

What are your favorite things about teaching here?
Grace is a wonderful community and environment to be in. I felt welcome from the first day I stepped foot on campus. There is an incredible sense of camaraderie and joint purpose here.

In my role as Learning Specialist, I have a lot of flexibility in how I approach my job. I am able to use my time in a way that’s most effective for everyone and to help students and teachers get what they need.

I also love the fact that every classroom at Grace has its own feel, and they all positively contribute to Grace as a whole.

Any surprises so far?
Grace kids are so excited to learn! I am thrilled by that, and also by the sense of play here and the way that it is integral to student success. It’s fun to be a part of that.

Complete this sentence: To be a great teacher, one must . . .
. . . be a student at heart!