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Seniors pick 'awesome' Aiello, 8 other teachers as tops


When Frank M. Aiello graduated from Towson State University in 1969, the Social Security Administration offered him "a fortune" to start as a computer programmer -- $9,000, as he recalls.

He turned it down to take a teaching job at City College in Baltimore for $6,800 a year.

Twenty-three years later, the Class of 1992 at Mount Hebron High School honored Aiello as the teacher who had most influenced the students during their school careers. A year earlier, the Class of 1991 made the same selection.

This for a man who stands in front of a calculus class and says things like, "If a spring has a natural length of 3 feet and a 10-pound force stretches it to 3.5 feet, then F equals C times X -- that's Hook's Law -- so 10 equals C times .5 and C equals 20."

Aiello was among nine teachers from county schools who were honored as outstanding by graduating seniors.

Aiello's classroom has no color posters to distract the eye from the equations covering the chalkboard and no front-wall decoration other than an "I love physics" bumper sticker and a School of Technology pennant.

"He's an awesome teacher," says senior Steven Esbrandt, 17. "He has a great way of explaining things. He's very patient and takes time to explain."

Sarah Rollek, 17, a senior who was in Aiello's class as a freshman and again this year, agrees. "Even when I wasn't in his class, he would still help me. Last year when I had trig, I was here one day I know till 4 o'clock. He doesn't say, 'I can't do it. I have something else.' "

Aiello decided when he was in the 11th grade that he would teach math. Math came easily to him and he wanted to work with young people.

He calls Maryland home because that's where his parents settled when he was 18, but the six Aiello children grew up everywhere, as military youngsters do. The Army had sent his father to Italy in World War II, where he met and married Frank's mother.

The family spoke only Italian at home, and Aiello didn't learn English until he entered an American school in the second grade. He's lost some facility with Italian since his parents died, but is still fluent.

Aiello taught for four years at City College, then two years at Northeast Senior High School in Anne Arundel County before coming to Hebron 17 years ago. He earned a master's degree from Morgan State University in 1975. He chairs the math department and is senior class sponsor, a busy schedule but not as stressful as 1987-1988.

That year, Aiello was the Vikings' head football coach, chaired the math department, taught his son Marcus in math class and coached him on the football field. Aiello's wife Katherine is a Columbia dentist.

The stress didn't stem from the father-son, teacher-student, coach-player relationships, but from taking on too many jobs, Aiello says.

"I feel if I do something, I have to do it right. I couldn't do that."

Marcus graduated in 1988 and is now a senior at University of Maryland Baltimore County. In 1988-1989, Frank Aiello reduced his workload by giving up coaching football.

Some of Aiello's colleagues avoid teaching their children, but he felt it was a good experience.

The advantage, he says, is that "It's a unique thing to be able to look into your own child's mind. As a teacher you get a chance to look into a child's mind. He's not the same person in the classroom that he is at home."

Teachers from other county schools who were honored as outstanding by the graduating seniors are:

James Plutschak, Atholton. Plutschak, 48, has been teaching math for 27 years. He came to Atholton 10 years ago after a teaching career in Maryland colleges. He grew up on a Caroline County farm, graduated from Salisbury State College in 1965 and earned a master's degree in 1970 from Loyola College. He and his wife Julianne, who chairs the English department at Pikesville Middle School, have two daughters, 26 and 22.

"Teaching is a wonderful career," he says. "It's nice to wake up each morning and know you're going to have something different each day. Whatever you give to the kids, I think they give right back to you."

Ava Vecchioni, Centennial. An English teacher for 30 years, 15 of them at Centennial, Vecchioni plans to retire at the end of this year. She graduated from Western Maryland College in 1954 and earned a master's degree at Johns Hopkins University in 1973. Vecchioni, 59, came to Centennial with the school's first principal, Angelo Fortunato, who was allowed to bring some of his faculty members from Western High in Baltimore to the new school. She and her husband Pietro "Pete," who owns a boat-repair business, have two daughters and one son, four granddaughters and one grandson.

Vecchioni says she always wanted to teach. "My mother said it's always a good job for a woman to have if she's going to have a family. She was right. It has been a wonderful profession for me, and I've lived a charmed professional life."

James Mundy, Glenelg. A social studies teacher for 18 years, the last nine at Glenelg, Mundy also won the outstanding teacher honor from last year's graduating seniors. He earned a bachelor's degree from Wake Forest University in 1973 and a master's degree from Loyola College in 1977. He taught at Howard High from 1974 to 1981 and served two years as president of the Howard County Education Association before coming to Glenelg. Mundy, 40, and his wife Cathy have a daughter, 4, and a son, 1.

Mundy said he was surprised to receive the honor for the second year in a row. "Glenelg has a senior staff, a more experienced staff. I was surprised and pleased because I have so many competent colleagues," he said.

Adeana Brandinger, Hammond. A teacher of business and computer courses, Brandinger, 37, has been teaching for 13 years, all at Hammond. She earned a bachelor's degree in accounting from the State University of New York at Albany in 1975. She became an accountant, but had always wanted to teach, so when the family moved to Howard County, Brandinger went to Johns Hopkins University, where she is now finishing her third master's degree, one each in education, business and computers. She and her husband Paul, an engineer, have a daughter in the first grade at Bollman Bridge Elementary School and a 14-month-old son.

"When the kids tell you you're all right -- we've seen you on good days and bad days and you're all right -- that means a lot because they're our clients," she says.

Craig O'Connell, Howard. O'Connell, 44, taught at St. Agnes School in Catonsville for 10 years before coming to Howard High to teach social studies seven years ago. He graduated from University of Maryland Baltimore County in 1973 and earned a master's degree from Towson State University in 1985. He and his wife Kathy, a homemaker and nurse, have five children ages 12, 10, 7, 6 and 4.

As an Army medic in Vietnam, O'Connell discovered that he liked helping people. When he came home and earned a degree in history, "I thought about it and decided to stay in a field where I could be helping people. I've never regretted it."

Barbara Jewett, Oakland Mills. A chemistry and science research teacher, Jewett, 49, has been teaching for 23 years, 17 of them at Oakland Mills. She received a bachelor's degree from the University of New Hampshire in 1964 and spent four years as a researcher before taking a teaching position at Bucks County Community College near Philadelphia. She received a master's degree from John Carroll University in 1970.

"In research, you did the same thing every day," she says. "In teaching, no two days are the same."

Linda Keller, Wilde Lake. Keller started her teaching career in a New York City junior high school 19 years ago, taught in Pennsylvania and then came to Howard County schools 16 years ago. She has been at Wilde Lake for the last eight years. She received a bachelor's degree from Mary Washington College in 1964, a master's degree in English from New York University in 1965 and a master's degree in reading from University of Maryland College Park in 1978. Keller, 49, and her husband Robert, a professor at University of Maryland School of Law, have one daughter who is an accountant in Baltimore and one who will graduate this year from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Keller said she was "really delighted for this award, particularly because it's from the kids. They're your audience, the people you work with every day."

Clarice Custer, School of Technology. Custer is vocational support services team liaison, resource teacher for students with special needs, coordinator for Maryland functional tests and adviser to the school's student government association. She came to the School of Technology three years ago after teaching English and Spanish for five years in Baltimore City schools and tutoring students in Howard County's home teaching program for 20 years. Custer, 44, earned a bachelor's degree from St. Joseph College in Emmitsburg in 1970 and a master's equivalency from Loyola College in 1990. She and her husband, Thomas, a science supervisor in Anne Arundel County schools, have three daughters, 17, 14 and 13.

Custer said being honored by the students "was exciting. Because I'm not a classroom teacher, but I go into all the classrooms when they need help, I'm glad they noticed that. It's nice to be appreciated by the students."

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