Flippen Elementary continues pumpkin patch in teacher’s memory

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

Flippen Elementary School physical-education teacher Mike Pietrowski said his late wife, Patricia, would be “honored” to know that their co-workers at the school are using a pumpkin patch named for her as a way to help people.

Patricia Pietrowski, who passed away in 2013, stands with her students at Flippen Elementary School. The school honors her memory each year by raising funds for local needy families through Patricia’s Pumpkin Patch. Special photo

“When I first heard of the idea I was excited, proud, happy, and it made me actually cry that the school thought so much of her to use the Pumpkin Patch as one way to keep her memory alive,” he remarked. “Patricia had a heart of gold and would do anything she could for anyone who needed help. She would help needy families at our church and do whatever she could. She would have loved the idea that the proceeds from Patricia’s Pumpkin Patch are going to needy families.”

Patricia Pietrowski, a kindergarten teacher at the school, passed away in October of 2013, after fighting breast cancer for more than eight years. In her memory, teachers there have decorated pumpkins as familiar characters, and students have collected money from people voting for their favorite pumpkin. Proceeds will be donated to needy families in the area. The school is scheduled to announce Wednesday which class raised the most money in the project.

Fellow kindergarten teacher Lisa Holland launched Patricia’s Pumpkin Patch in 2013, the same year as Patricia’s passing. Holland says the idea began as a “Harvest of Characters,” to raise money for needy families.

“It was renamed Patricia’s Pumpkin Patch after her passing,” says Holland. “I spearheaded this fundraiser, but could not have made it a success without the help and support of my fellow co-workers and administrators.”

Holland adds that Pietrowski was a “kind and loving” person who poured her life into those she taught.

“Once a student crossed the threshold of her classroom, they became hers forever,” says Holland. “Patricia was a firm believer that all students could learn and be successful, and she worked hard to ensure that this happened for all of her students. It is truly an honor to have had the privilege to have worked with Patricia and I know that all of her students and their parents feel the same way.”

Jennifer Shepherd is also a kindergarten teacher at Flippen Elementary. She says although Patricia’s Pumpkin Patch was initially designed to help Pietrowski and her family, Pietrowski used funds from the project to help others.

“The year we started it, the money raised was used to help support Patricia’s family because her cancer had taken a turn for the worse and showed up in her spine and her brain,” says Shepherd. “Even going through all of that, she ended up giving a portion of the money raised to others in need. Now Patricia’s Pumpkin Patch continues as a way for us to raise money for needy families in the community.”

Shepherd described Patricia as an “awesome” teacher, mother and wife, whose life was characterized by strong faith and a positive attitude in the face of adversity. Shepherd said Patricia’s Pumpkin Patch helps to teach valuable lessons to others, while honoring Pietrowski at the same time.

“For me, it’s a great way to remember Patricia and to help teach others about kindness, generosity, and giving,” said Shepherd. “I was blessed to know her, and I want others to see her light shine through us here at Flippen.”

Colleen Persaud, a second-grade teacher at Flippen Elementary, is among those whose lives were touched by Patricia Pietrowski. Persaud fondly recalls Pietrowski and her energy and generous spirit, and the way she inspired those around her.

“She was a person who encouraged me to go back to school to get my Master’s and become a teacher,” said Persaud. “She encouraged her students like that every day. Mrs. Pietrowski taught them that they could be more and do anything if they put their mind to it. I count myself lucky to have known her.”

A former student of Pietrowski’s, Teaghan Archer, also wrote a poem in Pietrowski’s honor, titled “Our First Best Teacher Ever.” In an excerpt from the poem, Archer describes Pietrowski as a teacher who strived to be “the best that she could be,” despite her illness.

‘She was there the whole year to teach, protect, and guide us.

Our first best teacher ever will forever live inside of us.

We know she is in heaven teaching children like us, but teaching them heavenly things.

Our first best teacher ever, is helping little angels earn their wings.”

The Pietrowskis were married 15 years and raised three sons – Michael, Cristian and Steven. Mike Pietrowski says his wife cared about her students as much as she cared about her own children.

“She loved being a teacher,” he says. “She looked forward to going to school every day and being able to teach and be with her students and the faculty and staff. She loved being at Flippen Elementary … I walk into the school and see the poster of the Pumpkin Patch and I know that Patricia is in that school every day and watching over everybody and the school. Her memory and spirit will always be a part of the Flippen family.”