Forming the Future: 'It's a calling,' says long-time teacher at St. Michael School, Lowell

LOWELL -- In her 25 years of teaching at St. Michael School in Lowell, Robin Dejadon has seen generations of students pass through her classroom. Her first crop of students has grown up and had children of their own, many of whom she also taught.

"It's a calling to teach at a parochial school," Dejadon told The Pilot in a Nov. 14 interview. "We certainly don't do it for the money."

However, among the many students she has taught, one sticks out in her memory: "My Conor."

Dejadon and Conor Callery met in 2011, back when she was teaching sixth, seventh, and eighth grade literature at St. Michael's. Callery wasn't big on literature, but Dejadon was determined to make him apply himself. She would pay special attention to him in class and work through difficult lessons with him. During recess, while Callery's classmates played, Dejadon would help him with his work.

"I tried to get him to put forth more effort that I knew he was capable of," she said, "because I knew he was a smart young man."

To Dejadon, Callery is not just a former student, but a friend and a "fine young man." After graduating, he briefly served as a gym teacher at St. Michael's. He now works for the Lowell Department of Public Works.

"He's such a successful adult and I'm so proud of him," Dejadon said.

In a Nov. 14 phone interview, Callery told The Pilot that he has fond memories of being in Dejadon's classroom. They managed to get along, even though she was a Patriots fan and he was a Packers fan.

"She was great," he said. "She cares for all of her students equally. If a student is struggling, she takes the time and effort to get that student back on track."

If Dejadon saw Callery "dozing off or goofing off," she would bring him back to focus. Whenever he has trouble concentrating nowadays, he imagines himself back in her classroom.

"To this day," he said, "I still feel that impact."

Dejadon was born and raised in Lowell, and still lives down the street from the school. She sees all of her students when they come to her door on Halloween, and she hosts annual study groups for final exams.

"Half of my life has been at St. Michael's," she said. "It's my parish, it's my home. I received my sacraments here. I buried family members here."

She also attended St. Michael's in her youth. She has seen the school curriculum change, but "the focus on Christian values is the same."

"We try to teach children academically, spiritually, emotionally," she said. "We want the children to be well-rounded individuals."

Before starting work at St. Michael's in 1997, she taught seventh and eighth grade at St. Margaret School and second grade at the now-closed St. Stanislaus School, both in Lowell. She has come to believe that Catholic schools have superior discipline, a "family atmosphere," and more support from parents compared to public schools.

"We're able to give extra help," she said, "say at recess time and after school, even before school."

At first, she taught seventh graders before moving onto middle-grade literature. This is her first school year teaching third grade.

"It's a sense of community that I find very important in Catholic school," she said.

A few years ago, she told her eighth grade class: "I wish I had a nickel for every time I caught you with gum."

At the end of the year, they collected a mason jar full of "nickels" (silver gum wrappers) and signed their names on it as a parting gift.

"That was sweet," she said.

In 2016, her students threw a surprise party for her 60th birthday. Alumni often come back to the school to do community service for college or confirmation, or simply to see her again. Students come to her for advice on their futures, such as what high school and college to go to. She and some of her former students have entered the Dracut Rotary Club's gingerbread house contest and won it three years in a row. The students used the prize money to take her out to dinner.

"They're grateful for the foundations they had at St. Michael's," she said.

"Just providing them with the best education I can" is how she describes her job. "Getting to know them, forming a bond with them in the classroom, which is carried on past their years at St. Michael's."