From Your District: East Aurora — teacher, student share lifelong bond
By Dan Campana Submitted column December 27, 2013 1:32PM
Former student and teacher, now lifelong friends, Grisel Solis and Cynthia Fioramonti today. | Submitted photo
Jan. 6 — School resumes after winter break
Jan. 6 — Student Parent Enrichment Committee
Jan. 7 — High School Athletic Booster Club meeting
Jan. 7 — High School NJROTC Booster Club meeting
Jan. 17 — Final exams, second quarter ends
Jan. 20 — No school for Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Jan. 21 — School Improvement Day, half day for students
Jan. 21 — Board of Education meeting
For a full calendar of events, go to www.d131.org
Updated: January 31, 2014 6:06AM
Grisel Solis and Cynthia Fioramonti greet each other in a way that makes you think of family.
When they discuss their 27-year friendship that began as teacher and student at East Aurora High School, each woman pauses to find the words to summarize how she is better for knowing the other person. Ultimately, they resign themselves to the fact that they’ve never thought about it in such specific terms.
“I don’t know that it can be defined,” said Fioramonti, who retired from East Aurora High School in 2013. “She gives me balance.”
Solis, 42, is straightforward about her former teacher when she says: “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here.”
All of this seems far removed from a sophomore English class in the mid-1980s. Solis was a shy 10th-grader who was slightly older than her peers after being held back upon returning from middle school in Puerto Rico.
“I remember she (Fioramonti) used to talk about drama and speech and oldie movies,” Solis said, mentioning classroom discussions where opinions were encouraged. “She opened your eyes. I never had those kinds of conversations.”
Fioramonti recognized something about Solis when, despite her shyness, she spoke up to help a female classmate. Not many students would put themselves out there like that.
Other key moments followed. Sensing their bond, Solis asked Fioramonti to be her confirmation sponsor. Serving as godmother is a profoundly meaningful role in Solis’ culture.
“I was so thrilled, it just touched me so deeply,” Fioramonti said.
Even today, she and Solis refer to each other as godmother and goddaughter without hesitation.
Not long after confirmation, Solis became pregnant and decided working, not school, was what she needed. Fioramonti understood Solis’ priorities and reasons for leaving school. Now, Solis sees the mistake in leaving.
“I never would have (dropped out) with what I know now,” she said.
Encouraged by Fioramonti, Solis eventually earned her high school diploma. She didn’t stop there.
Fioramonti went to great lengths to highlight Solis’ recent accomplishment — a criminal justice degree from Westwood College that was accompanied by a leadership award for her approach to balancing school, a job and family.
With motherly pride, Fioramonti penned a detailed story of Solis’ path from a high school dropout to college graduate and loving mother to celebrate the accomplishment. The story was published in August in The Beacon-News.
“I never doubted she would do what she needed to do to be successful,” Fioramonti said. “I wanted her in the spotlight. I wrote it to give her a gift.”
Solis sees a lesson for students in her experience beyond simply staying in school. She thinks kids are quick to judge teachers as an authority unable to offer guidance beyond a lesson plan.
“Don’t judge a book by its cover. They know when something is wrong,” Solis said. “That one question you ask them might be the break you need.”
Fioramonti brings the other perspective, suggesting teachers in general should look beyond test scores to understand the people — the students — they spend so much time around.
“You’ll connect with kids if you open your heart,” she said.
Courtesy of East Aurora School District 131, which submits a column to The Beacon-News on a bi-weekly basis.