That's 'LYFE'

Former marketing assistant finds calling with toddlers
Suzanne Popadin 1358
Teacher sitting on classroom couch holding a book while two young students look on
Erica Berger

Teacher Patricia Belluscio says every activity she does with the infants and toddlers in the LYFE program at Cascades HS in Manhattan is a building block and sets a foundation for the future.

For years, Patricia Belluscio coveted a career in the fashion industry, so she earned her bachelor’s degree from LIM College, the business school for fashion. “Even before graduating, I landed an amazing job,” she said, as a marketing assistant for jeweler Tiffany and Co.

But it didn’t take long for Belluscio to realize there is something far more precious than jewels.

“I lacked fulfillment,” she recalled. “I was working so hard and for what? I realized I wanted a sense of purpose and I wanted to impact someone’s life. I wanted to leave work every day knowing I made a difference.”

Today, as a teacher in the city Department of Education’s LYFE program at Cascades HS in Manhattan, Belluscio has “found what was calling me.” The program provides free early childhood education to the city’s youngest learners while supporting their student-parents, who attend classes at the same site or elsewhere, to graduate and even continue on to postsecondary education.

Belluscio teaches two groups — infants from 6 weeks to 1 year old and toddlers up to age 3 — with four paraprofessionals assisting.

As an aunt of four, Belluscio knew she “liked working with kids” and “watching them grow and develop.” But teaching hadn’t crossed her mind until a family member suggested she try subbing.

The thought of starting over was frightening, says Belluscio. “I remember I was petrified of telling my parents.” But when she broke the news, “My dad said, ‘You know, Patricia, I’m so proud of you. You’re going to be great.’”

She took the required trainings and became a substitute teacher in April 2016, just 15 months after finishing college and a year after starting at Tiffany’s.

“As fate would have it, I kept landing positions in early childhood and I loved it,” she says.

A sub assignment in the LYFE program at Port Richmond HS on Staten Island kept getting extended and Belluscio’s interest in the program kept growing. Going to school at night, she fulfilled all her teaching requirements in about 18 months.

Some people “think all we do is play,” Belluscio says before explaining that everything her students do sets a foundation. Take crayons: When a child uses one, someone might think, ‘Oh, he’s making a scribble.’ No, says Belluscio, “That’s going to set how he holds a pen or a pencil and how he writes in upper grades.”

Belluscio particularly enjoys working across generations. “I’m with the child, I’m with the student-parent and we have all these amazing family engagements that bring in grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles — basically all drilling down to the child.”

Days can be long, but “it’s such a difference” from corporate life, she says. “I can work here until 7 at night and I walk out and reflect on powerful interactions with the children, and it doesn’t even occur to me that I still haven’t gotten home or eaten.”

As for the children, “I think they will remember me the same way I remember my teachers,” Belluscio says. “I don’t remember what they said, but I remember being in a safe environment, an open environment, a helpful environment. I remember a warm feeling.”

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