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  • Writer's pictureThis Is Rutherford

Dedication Plaque for Michele Sabia

By Jennifer Ersalesi

There are certain teachers who touch the lives of the students they teach and their families and leave a lasting impact. Michele Sabia was a first-grade teacher at Washington School whose life tragically ended at age forty-five almost six years ago. Michele's family, the community of Rutherford, and the staff at Washington School will gather this month to remember Michele and dedicate a special plaque for her at Washington School. This is Rutherford spoke with Michele's father, Peter Miragliotta about Michele and the plaque dedication.

TIR: Since losing your daughter Michele, you have been an active Board member of the Center for Hope and Safety through which you are dedicated to ending domestic violence and assisting victims of domestic violence. This month there will be a plaque dedication for Michele at Washington School. How did this all come about?

Peter Miragliotta: July 6, 2021, marked five years since Michele's death. July 25, 2021, would have been her fiftieth birthday, which we celebrated with a family barbeque at our home. My wife, Jackie, and I thought that the close proximity of these two significant dates would be an appropriate time to do something to honor and memorialize Michele. As it turned out, I waited too long to try to get the ball rolling, not to mention that, due to all of the Covid deaths, the places that make headstones and memorials were really backed up. We had noticed that the left side of the walkway leading to the front entrance to Washington School is graced by a plaque in remembrance of Jason Rynd, "an exceptionally fine student", along with a tree. We thought that it would be nice to lay a plaque and plant a tree to create a permanent remembrance of Michele since Washington School meant so much to her and she is so well-loved and remembered there.

When I asked Bill Mulcahy, the Principal of Washington School about the possibility of laying a plaque and planting a tree it took all of a day for him to touch bases with the school's Superintendent, Jack Hurley, and get back to us with the go-ahead.

TIR: Michele was a beloved teacher at Washington School. She touched the lives of many children and families. Having this dedication and plaque located at Washington School is very meaningful. What can you tell us about Michele’s teaching career?

PM: Michele graduated from Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) with a bachelor's degree in Theater Arts. She always loved theater and acting. As a child, she used to produce various productions every summer, with her brothers and cousins. when our whole family would spend some time at a rented home in Lavalette. This carried through into high school where she acted in all of the spring and fall productions at Queen of Peace and then to college. After college, one of her endeavors was to start a children's entertainment company called: "Coupla Clowns". Her clown name was "Petunia". I have a tattoo of a hummingbird feeding at a Petunia on my arm but that's a story for another day.

By the time Michele was a college senior, she realized that the likelihood of making a living through acting was probably not all that realistic and decided that teaching would be something that she would enjoy and provide a decent living. Since she did not come out of college with a teaching certificate, she pursued obtaining her teaching credentials through an alternate route. She interned and then taught at an elementary school in Jersey City in what was then known as an Abbott District, intended to raise the teaching standards in low-income school districts. While teaching there, she applied for a position in Rutherford and was observed by Bill Mulcahy. She originally taught at Union School, which she attended from kindergarten through eighth grade, and then when the elementary schools in Rutherford were reorganized, she transferred to Washington School.

TIR: The dedication will take place on May 21st at 9:30 am at Washington School. You would like to extend an invitation to the community to participate. Tell us more about why this particular event is important to you and your family.

PM: We, of course, want to honor Michele and keep her memory alive for as long as possible. The memorial plaque at Washington School is, in our minds, a fitting way to do that. It will serve as a permanent reminder of her time there and who she was. As the saying on the plaques says, her whole life was teaching. Teaching her students and teaching so many others by her example. We have heard so many stories from people whose lives were touched by her in so many ways. Driving past Washington School is always special to us as we think about her time there and her spirit still present. The presence of the plaque will make that even more special for us.

We want to say also that, while we, of course, want to celebrate her life, this dedication is also about thanking the whole community and especially the Rutherford schools community for all of the support that we and Michele's children received immediately and to this day.

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