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Mary Ellen Palenchar
Excellence in Education

From her first day in the classroom to the day she retired in 2003, Mary Ellen Palenchar influenced how thousands of NAHS students read, write, and view the world today. A true professional, her strong desire to achieve and her passion for learning made Mary Ellen a tremendous role model during her 32 years as a master teacher.

In 1971, following a brief stint as Assistant Director of Admissions at Wheaton College, Mary Ellen joined a North Attleboro High School faculty that featured “dynamic people who valued quality teaching, loved kids and worked together so well.” She always admired North Attleboro students, but teaching with friends truly made it the “best of times.”

As an English teacher, Mary Ellen challenged her students to think critically and write clearly. Best known as the teacher of Junior AP English, she had high expectations for all students. Because she wanted students at all levels to understand and, at the very least, appreciate different ideas in society and in literature, Mary Ellen often introduced minority writers to students for a new perspective, and used everything from newspaper and magazine articles, to movies and television shows as a basis for analysis. In addition, she tried to integrate the arts into her lessons because she saw literature as an art, and she wanted her students to make a deeper connection with the tools of artists and authors. This approach led to engaging, thought-provoking and unique classes.

In 1989, Mary Ellen assumed the Humanities Department Chair, making her the direct supervisor to 45 teachers in the English, Social Studies, Foreign Language, Art and Music departments. She effectively mentored young and veteran teachers, encouraging them to strive to be better and take risks, and she eventually helped establish a formal mentoring program for new NAHS teachers. As an educational leader, Mary Ellen’s foresight led to the creation of several media-based courses, including Media and Theory, Journalism, and Newsweek-based Critical Thinking and Writing, in addition to several other courses that are still taught today. To address a need for increased global awareness and interdisciplinary study, Mary Ellen led a group of teachers who developed a unit on China and Japan that won the Massachusetts Global Education Award. Even during the final years of her career, she continued to challenge herself, taking workshops on brain-based learning, standards-based education and on-demand writing.

Mary Ellen said she always hoped that students would “be happy” coming to her class and “be happy” when they left class. And she hoped they learned something along the way. It is no exaggeration to say that both Mary Ellen’s students and her colleagues were happy to have been taught by her.

Mary Ellen currently resides in Florida and is extremely proud of her three daughters: Sakina, Jameela and Khatija. She loves being a grandmother and is currently writing a landscaping grant for her condo association.