Nicholas DiBenedetto (’13,’16) Receives Recent Alumni Award
By Hannah Werthan
Nicholas DiBenedetto grew up not too far from Molloy's Rockville Centre campus, in Wantagh. In high school, he ran track and saw how much his coach made a difference in his and his fellow teammates' lives. He knew he wanted to do the same for other kids. Nicholas and one of his friends shared an aspiration to become teachers. His friend, a Molloy student, suggested that Nicholas look at the college because it seemed like a perfect fit. Ultimately, Nicholas ended up choosing Molloy twice: first as an Adolescent Education major with a concentration in social studies and then as a graduate TESOL student. Now, he is an English as a New Language (ENL) teacher at West Hempstead High School.
As an undergraduate, Nicholas competed on the track and field team at Molloy and also became their captain. Being a student-athlete helped him develop his leadership skills and learn how to effectively manage deadlines. After he graduated in 2013, Nicholas came back to the team as the assistant coach. Currently, he is the varsity track and field coach and a junior varsity assistant football coach at West Hempstead High School. He mentors young athletes the same way his high school coach mentored him.
This fall, Nicholas began his third year of teaching in West Hempstead schools. When he began his career, Nicholas quickly discovered how important it was to build strong relationships with his students. "I am a mentor, a counselor, and a surrogate parent for many of my kids," he says. When creating lesson plans, Nicholas focuses on what his class wants to do. "My goal is to break down walls that my students put up. I draw inspiration from my passions - such as reading, technology, music, and track - in the hopes that we can find common ground," he says.
One issue that Nicholas faces is that parents of ENL students can be hesitant to have relationships with teachers. To help ENL parents feel more comfortable, the teachers host a separate back to school night specifically for them. There, teachers pass out their email addresses and emphasize that it is ok to reach out at any time.
There can also be technological differences among ENL students. In the past, Nicholas discovered that several of his students could text on their phones but had no experience typing on a computer.
Despite some challenges, Nicholas says that his job "keeps getting better and better." It gives him great joy to see his former seventh graders completely mixed in with their classmates two years later. He is excited when students tell him that they dreamt in English. "When you learn a language, you really open yourself up. I've experienced this myself when I've travelled abroad. It is a great feeling," he says.
In the future, Nicholas plans to continue teaching and may pursue a PhD in Linguistics, another one of his passions. Over the past two years, he has conducted research with Dr. Jacqueline Nenchin, a professor at Molloy, on the usage of gamer slang. They shared their initial research at the LACUS conference in Nova Scotia last year, and Dr. Nenchin presented their work at this year's conference as well.
Whether he is in the classroom or at a track meet, Nicholas works tirelessly to help his students achieve greatness. He is a leader and a lifelong learner devoted to serving others.