From Cupola to Classroom: An Hour with Lindsey DeLorenzo

Fifteen years ago on a Friday afternoon, VLACS computer science instructor Lindsey DeLorenzo was hammering a nail atop a detached cupola in a cold spring wind in her grubby hat, Carhartts, and tool belt when she got the call that would change her life. 

The following Monday, she walked into Merrimack High School (sans the grubby hat, Carhartts, or toolbelt), her department head greeted her, handed her a roster, and recommended taking attendance first. “Then he looked at me,” says Lindsey, “and said in a very serious voice, ‘good luck.’” It was her first teaching job.

“I fell into teaching,” she laughs over Zoom, “and thankfully not off the cupola.” 

Lindsey tells me that her parents had tried to convince her to get her teaching degree as an undergraduate, but she just didn’t want to do it. “After I figured out that I didn’t want to be an English major,” she says, “I found the woodshop and a Product Design and Development Degree at Keene State College--and I found what I love.” 

She tells me about her side business as an undergraduate. “I was a carpenter, very part-time,” she laughs. “I built all the furniture for a chapel down in Marshfield, Massachusetts. I built the chair, the lectern, the holy oils cabinets, two sets of candlesticks, the regular altar. I made all the furniture. It was really cool.”

Lindsey resisted teaching until the Merrimack job.

She says, “Merrimack hired me because I had the skill set, the CAD and mechanical and architectural drafting. I knew the content and I had the enthusiasm and energy.  But I didn’t know how to teach.”

I ask her why she applied in the first place if she knew she didn’t want to do it. She laughs again. 

“I loved the carpentry and timber framing restoration work I was doing,” she says, “but my husband and I had just gotten married and we knew we wanted to start a family. I needed a full-time job with benefits and the small contracts I was getting--which were amazing and fun and wonderful--weren’t going to cut it. So I asked around.”

She’s been a full-time teacher at Merrimack ever since. 

“I love it. I’ve improved a lot since that first day, too!” she laughs. “I love my students. I love the way they express themselves through their codes or whatever they’re doing. I love working with them, letting them express themselves.”

She tells me about a game she plays at Merrimack. “Eraser toss. It’s a silly game that I made up in my early days to connect with kids because I didn’t know what I was doing,” she says, “but I’ve learned that those so-called silly games are really important. It can be the dead of winter and we’ll head out to play eraser toss for five minutes before class. We talk, we laugh, we throw erasers, and then we go inside and they work really hard for the rest of the class. They’re ready. They feel connected. So do I.” 

Lindsey applies this concept at VLACS, too. “I love it when our DBAs are conversations,” she says. DBAs, or discussion-based assessments, give VLACS students the opportunity to show their mastery of a concept or skill. “Sometimes my students don’t give me an answer from the reading or the assignment, but from something they know from a video game. Their answers come from their passion and lives. I’m lucky that I get to see that in the classes that I teach for VLACS.”

When Lindsey started teaching for VLACS three years ago in concert with her Merrimack job,   she taught technology courses for the adult education program. “I had a few high school students and one or two adult students. It was a good way to learn a bit more about VLACS.”

Then Scott Prescott, VLACS’s Director of Instruction, told her about a new computer science certification the State of NH Department of Education created. He worked with her to get it so that she could teach a wide variety of courses, including those in game design and robotics.

“I am pretty sure that I was the 20th teacher in the State of NH to be certified in computer science,” she says.

I ask about her transition from carpentry to teaching not only woodworking and technology courses, but hardcore programming and robotics courses. 

“I have a mentality about learning that I like to share with my students--even though I may not know how to do something, I can learn. When I was a kid, my 89’ Jetta--loved that car--died and my Dad told me it was the heater core. He gave me the service manual and said go for it. I had a pile of screws left over when I was done but the car worked! The more I teach, the more I learn, which is cool.”

With the COVID-19 crisis in full-swing, Lindsey says that that attitude has helped not just with her teaching work, but with her family.

“When this all started, it was insane,” she says. “Merrimack was going online, so I felt like I had a bit of an advantage because of all of my work with VLACS--I was grateful that I had some idea of what to do!”

It’s since calmed down, but running a household and working full-time isn’t easy.

“My kids are eight and ten,” she says, “and we have a new dog named Orbit. We’re all doing our best. We miss the town library terribly, so we’re trying Audible and Epic.”

While she and her family are spending lots of time at home, they’re doing lots of projects. “My husband and I both love woodworking,” she says, “so we’re working on some projects that we’d been putting off, like these heater covers.” She points behind her to some gorgeous solid wood covers that I had thought, from my Zoom perch, were part of the stunning hardwood floor. They blend right in. “Bookshelves for the kids’ rooms, that kind of stuff,” she says.

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I learn that Lindsey is a hiker, a photographer, and a writer, too. She and her husband are nearly done with their 4,000-footers. “We loved Madison and Adams,” she says, “oh, and the Tripyramids, too!” They’d been looking forward to working on them this season, and getting the kids out for some camping this summer, but now they’re unsure. 

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She tells me about family camping trips to Moab, to Baxter State Park, to Yellowstone, about the book she and her husband are writing about covered bridges.

“I love to shoot photographs and he likes history,” she says. “We have what we call ‘date day.’ We pick a covered bridge, drive out, shoot the bridge, and its plaque, and then we write about each one. We’re about halfway though.” 

I ask about her favorite. “I love the Cornish Windsor Covered Bridge — it was the longest covered Bridge in the US. It’s a neat bridge to shoot.”.

We gush over the Bondcliffs, coding kits for kids, an out of the way hike, a good restaurant. We make vague plans for coffee when all of this--we wave our hands wildly--is over.

Lindsey DeLorenzo is one of the most talented and earnest people I’ve ever met. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s grateful she leapt from the cupola to the classroom.

 

 

 

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