The 2016 recipient of the Sr. Margaret James McGrath Distinguished Alumni Award is Maria-Filomena F. DeCarvalho ’75, a dedicated teacher who spent 35 years educating students in foreign languages in Springfield, MA. Mena taught a wide variety of students: Spanish as a foreign language, English as a second language and Portuguese bilingual classes. She also taught all her students the value of loyalty, respect, compassion and honesty, and served as a sterling example of these qualities in her own life.
Mena received her bachelor of arts degree in modern languages (Spanish and French) with magna cum laude distinction from Elms College in 1975; she earned her M.A. in Spanish from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1980.
In the first two summers after she earned her master’s degree, she was a teacher in the Massachusetts Migrant Education Program at Mont Marie in Holyoke, working with preschool through grade 12 students in both the regular and bilingual/ESL programs. She then taught Spanish, ESL and Portuguese at Carew Street School, Indian Orchard Elementary School and John F. Kennedy Jr. High School. In the mid-’80s, Mena taught Spanish at Classical High School, and then she moved to Springfield Central High School, where she taught Spanish from 1986 to 2010. She also coached cheerleading at Classical High School and Central High School from 1984 to 1994.
Mena’s excellence in teaching was recognized many times throughout her career. She was named the Massachusetts Association of Bilingual Educators’ Teacher of the Year in 1983 and named nine times in Who’s Who Among American Teachers. In 1984, she received the Celebrate Literacy Award from the International Reading Association and Pioneer Valley Reading Council, as well as being recognized in the Outstanding Young Women of America. In 2005, she received an Excellence in Teaching Award from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation in 2005.
To Mena, teaching was never just a job. She truly cared about her students, and was always concerned about their wellbeing both in and outside of school. Even today, as a retiree, Mena continues to work for the Springfield schools as a home teacher for students who are physically incapable of attending school. She coordinates lessons with the students’ teachers, masters the materials to be taught, and then presents the lessons to the students in their own homes.
She has served as a member of the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association (MaFLA), the Foreign Language Collaborative of Western Massachusetts and National Education Association, and she has participated in various professional conferences including the Annual Fall Conference for Foreign Language Educators (1984-present); and workshops through the Springfield Public Schools in foreign language education, reading and writing across the curriculum, building skills for student achievement on MCAS, and in pedagogy, methodology, and technology.
An avid traveler, Mena has visited many countries around the world, including her native Portugal, Spain, Israel, Central America and China. During her years of teaching in Springfield, she shared her love of traveling with her students by chaperoning several trips, even taking students as far as China.
As an alumna, she has never forgotten her Elms roots. She has demonstrated her love for the college by serving on the Alumni Board, acting as a class agent for many years, and actively helping other alumni reconnect to their alma mater.
Mena’s life is rooted in her love of God and the Blessed Mother, and in service to others. As a daily communicant of St. Mary’s Parish in Longmeadow, Mass., she has been very active in many parish functions and as a member of the Spiritual Life Committee. Her efforts helped organize and orchestrate the annual Catholic Women’s Conference in western Massachusetts for the past several years.
The Sr. Margaret James McGrath Distinguished Alumni Award is presented annually by the College of Our Lady of the Elms to an outstanding Elms College alumnus who reflects the ideals and mission of the college, and has established an exceptional reputation in their careers and communities.
Selected nominees are chosen by the Distinguished Alumni Award Committee, and all nominations will be considered. The award will be presented to the Distinguished Alumnus during the Fall Convocation ceremony. To recommend a candidate, please complete the form below, and submit an essay substantiating why this person is deserving of the award; in particular, please describe how your nominee has distinguished himself or herself in different areas of his or her life, including professional, spiritual, intellectual, personal, and loyalty to Elms College.
All nominations for the 2017-2018 academic year should be submitted by March 31, 2017.