Honoring Our 2021 Retirees: Mrs. Kathleen Sparaccio

Nate Cohen

The end of the school year is always an eventful time for the South High community. As workloads diminish and the temperature increases, students and faculty alike celebrate accomplishments, reflect upon cherished memories, and bask in the glory of their newfound free time. For Mrs. Kathleen Sparaccio, a long-time English teacher and reading specialist, this June will be notable for another reason—it will be her last working as a teacher. In her 40 years of teaching, Mrs. Sparaccio has touched the lives of many students through literature and learning. 

Some people just always knew what they wanted to do when they “grew up.” Having wanted to be a teacher since she was a child, Mrs. Sparaccio certainly falls into this group. In fact, as a young girl, Mrs. Sparaccio’s favorite activity was “playing school.” And when Christmas or her birthday rolled around, Mrs. Sparaccio didn’t ask for traditional toys but a blackboard and books. In high school, Mrs. Sparaccio’s English teachers helped foster in her a deep passion for literature. As the years passed, her love for the subject only increased, and she became committed to becoming an English teacher.

For her first years in education, Mrs. Sparaccio worked in a Catholic high school, teaching a variety of classes including eleventh grade honors, creative writing, and some college classes. Additionally, Mrs. Sparaccio was involved in the theatre program at the school and even directed the play Our Town. She also had the opportunity to take her students on international trips to England. For Mrs. Sparaccio, this was undoubtedly “one of the highlights of my early years.”  

In 2003, after 22 years at her previous school, Mrs. Sparaccio began teaching English at South High, where she taught 9R, 10H,  Short Stories, and Themes in Literature. After more than a decade in the English department, she transferred to the Study Center in 2015, where she has been teaching ever since. According to Mrs. Sparaccio, “Working at the Study Center has been a dream come true.” 

Over the years, Mrs. Sparaccio worked to ensure that her classroom was welcoming to all her students. “I wanted students to know that I really cared about them and not just their grades,” explained Mrs. Sparaccio. This philosophy is perhaps best summed up by a favorite phrase she always told her students: “Your character is more important than your grades.” One year, students even carved the phrase on a plaque for her. By shifting her students’ attitudes away from grades, Mrs. Sparaccio believed she could create an environment of true learning where students felt comfortable and engaged.

In her teaching of literature, Mrs. Sparaccio always aimed to have her students appreciate the “struggles and triumphs of the human spirit.” Through class discussions, Mrs. Sparaccio’s students came to realize that literature is a mirror for life. “When you study literature, you study people… and people are imperfect, people struggle,” explained Mrs. Sparaccio. “By learning about these characters, students learn about themselves.”

Some of Mrs. Sparaccio’s most treasured memories from her career include the annual Romeo and Juliet party she held in her 10H classes. “I still have a ton of pictures! The kids would get dressed up in outfits and make food from the Elizabethan era, and we would play Elizabethan music,” she explained. 

Mrs. Sparaccio has also loved spending time with her colleagues both inside and outside the classroom. Whether it was talking literature in the office, attending theatrical performances, or going out for dinner, Mrs. Sparaccio always cherished the time spent with her colleagues.

But ultimately, she loved spending time with her students. “The kids were a joy!” exclaimed Mrs. Sparaccio. When her class was deep in a discussion and the bell would ring, her students wouldn’t budge. And every day at the end of class, the students would get up and say thank you. “I always thought, these parents really do something amazing because the kids were just so appreciative.”

For her next chapter, Mrs. Sparaccio will move part-time to San Diego to be with her children and soon-to-be new grandchild. She also plans to become more involved in her church. 

Much can be said about Mrs. Sparaccio’s legacy. She was not only an English teacher, but a dutiful educator, passionate public servant, and, to many, a dear friend. She didn’t just teach kids how to pass a test or receive a high grade, she taught them to love learning and take joy in the beauty of literature. So while Mrs. Sparaccio will be leaving South High shortly, the mark she left on this school and her students will forever remain.