Retired Maj. Salvatore Fiorella, with Globe High School, is the 2018 Arizona Rural Schools Teacher of the Year.
Presented annually to an outstanding educator, the prestigious award was given out last month at the annual Arizona Rural Schools Association Conference, in Flagstaff.
Fiorella has been at Globe High School eight years as its U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officer Training (JROTC) Instructor.
When nominating Fiorella for the award, Supt. Jerry Jennex called Fiorella “first and foremost, a person of the highest integrity…always honest and forthright, a true person of honor.”
“Sal demonstrates a tremendous concern and compassion for our students,” going out of his way “to seek out students for enrollment that he knows would benefit” from in the high school’s JROTC program.
“He has actively sought out students to the point that almost 20-percent of our student body participates in JROTC,” Jennex said.
With a student population of about 530 students, “ the high school’s JROTC program consistently maintains an enrollment of more than 100 student cadets, he said in his nomination letter.
More than “just getting kids into the program,” Fiorella “has built a sense of family,” Jennex said.
“Students cadets build relationships through JROTC that are often life changing.”
Jennex used the example that, at the annual JROTC military ball held in the spring, graduating senior cadets share their thoughts with the rest of the battalion.
“Every year, students identify how they have been positively impacted by JROTC and, especially, how Maj. Fiorella has been an outstanding influence on their growth,” Jennex said.
In his six years serving the Globe Unified School District, Jennex has attended almost every military ball, where “the same theme about Sal’s contribution to students is repeated every time.”
Another key contribution Fiorella makes is teaching “our cadets the importance of community service,” he said.
“Dozens of times throughout any school year, and even over the summer, our JROTC cadets are active in providing parking assistance for events, presenting the colors at community meetings and ceremonies, marching in parades, doing community clean-up and any number of other avenues of serving the greater Globe/Miami community,” Jennex said. “The impression that JROTC makes on our community is a tremendously positive reflection on Globe High School and Globe Unified School District.”
“Pretty amazing” is how Fiorella described winning the award.
“I didn’t grow up to be a teacher. I’ve been a soldier my whole life,” he told the Silver Belt. “I wasn’t always like this. I was on the combat battlefield in the Middle East, and two weeks later I’m in a classroom.”
Retired from the military in 2008, Fiorella was called back in 2010 to work with a Saudi Arabian military general.
Fiorella had applied for the teaching job in Globe, but then had to ask the high school to hold the position open for him, as he had to be away for a year.
“My relationship with the cadets forced me to be the teacher they needed to listen and to understand,” he said. “I believe that this is really my calling.”
“Two years in, my wife told me that I’m a better husband and father,” Fiorella said.
Being in the military, especially achieving the rank of major, Fiorella had to be “very authoritative.”
“Becoming a teacher, I had to take a step back and try to listen and understand,” he told the Silver Belt. “It made me a better teacher and a better man.”
As Jennex said in his nomination letter, Fiorella makes his cadets feel like family.
“They know I will be there for them and protect them,” he said.
Fiorella said he has seen students who were “always in trouble; always in fights; always having issues. Now they are leaders, enforcing the rules they had violated before.”
The difference? “An awesome relationship,” he told the Silver Belt.
Fiorella believes that teachers need to be aware of their students’ different learning styles, and GHS Principal Roberta Armenta has been very supportive of that.
Fiorella said he has had students claim they can’t learn because their teachers don’t like them.
“It’s better when students trust their teachers and their teachers respect them, too,” he said. “Teachers need to evaluate their audience,” Fiorella said. “When I was in the military and had to brief generals, I learned all I could about those generals first.”
“We all learn a different way,” he said.
The JROTC curriculum encourages self-awareness and discovering one’s own learning style, Fiorella said. “I’m trying to do different things here.”
While Fiorella was growing up, when students were asked if they were smart, they usually answered, “I’m bad in math,” etc.
“Now we ask the question, ‘How are you smart?’, because someone may learn differently than I do. My cadets know that,” he said.
Fiorella said that, armed with that knowledge, students having trouble in a particular class can tell the teacher, “I’m a visual learner,” so the teacher can then give them “a better concept of the information,” more suited to their learning style.
“In teaching the cadets, I’m learning, too,” Fiorella said. “I had to change.”
The curriculum teaches cadets management techniques, the importance of self-awareness and self-esteem, as well as teamwork and decision-making skills.
Globe’s JROTC program has “the same structures as the military,” with the students wearing their Army uniforms once a week, said Fiorella, adding, “They also learn military courtesy and respect.”
“The kids truly run this program,” he said.
When Fiorella began teaching the JROTC program in Globe, there were 64 kids in the program, and “we kept on growing. Now we have more than 100 kids.”
Fiorella said most of his former students go into higher education or into their careers out of high school, but not necessarily the military.
Another aspect of JROTC is community service.
“The cadets spend their whole weekend with us and they never complain, even though there’s something every weekend,” Fiorella said. “We want to make them good citizens.”
Originally from Buffalo, N.Y. Fiorella and his family had lived in Queen Creek for six years, buying their home in Globe in the past year, which Jennex described as further indication of his commitment to the community.
As the 2018 Teacher of the Year, Fiorella receives a check for $1,000, a plaque acknowledging his achievements and recognition and an all-expense paid trip to the annual National Rural Education Association Convention.
Fiorella is now in the running for the title of National Rural Teacher of the Year, to be awarded at the convention October 2019, in Louisville, Ky., he told the Silver Belt
All State winners also have their names engraved on a large plaque housed at Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff.