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Clipper Corner: Alumni Edition

East Falmouth Special Education 1:1 Aide Beth Villanueva 

By Sarah E. Murphy 

Beth VillanuevaBeth (Brezinski) Villanueva never pictured herself working in education, but in 2019, she felt it was time to change direction. 

A former Clipper, Beth attended Falmouth Public Schools, beginning at North Falmouth Elementary School, graduating from Falmouth High School in 1990. She and her husband, Gabriel, relocated to East Falmouth from Chicago in 2014 with their two young children. 

After a successful 20-year career in health insurance, based in Chicago and Boston, Beth re-assessed her professional goals shortly before the pandemic and decided she was ready to step away and pursue something new. 

“I was fortunate to get several promotions throughout my career, and I got to do a lot of traveling, so for a while, it was the best of both worlds. But as my children were getting older, I was missing things in their lives,” she recalled. 

“I was tired of getting up at 2:30 in the morning to catch a flight, or getting home late at night.”

Beth also came to the realization that she no longer felt fulfilled by her career. 

“I wasn’t really passionate about sales. I’m more of a doer,” she said. 

To that end, she opted to spend a season working at Coonamessett Farm in East Falmouth. 

“I loved that experience, and while I was there, I met a group from Housing Assistance Corporation (HAC) that came to volunteer one day.  So, I applied for a job there and was hired to work with adults with intellectual and physical disabilities.”

It proved to be another experience she loved, and she spent the next two and a half years at HAC, based in Hyannis. But prior to being hired, Beth had sent her resume to Falmouth Public Schools to inquire about a teaching assistant position. 

“I wanted to get back into more of a community-based job. I love living in Falmouth, so I really wanted to get involved in this community, in one way or another,” she said. Additionally, Beth had been seeking a position that would enable her to be on the same schedule as her children, Caleb, 12, a seventh-grader at Lawrence School, and 11-year-old Emma, a fifth-grader at Morse Pond.

“I wasn’t planning on leaving HAC until I got an email from (East Falmouth Elementary School Principal) Paul Goodhind about this opportunity,” she said. 

Beth joined the staff at East Falmouth for the 2022-2023 school year as a Special Education 1:1 Aide.

“Everyone has been so welcoming, and I’ve discovered I have all these connections with people I didn’t even realize. The people here really care about the children, giving them a quality education, and doing the best for them,” she said. 

In Beth’s case, the teachers in Falmouth Public Schools  who impacted her the most were those who viewed each student as unique -  in particular, English teachers Mike Rainnie and Dave Peros at Falmouth High School, and Joanne Holcomb at Lawrence School. 

“Mr. Rainnie was so down-to-earth. I loved Stephen King, and I remember being so excited when “The Shining” was on our summer reading,” she said. 

“It was something that I was passionate about that I got to participate in, reading something that I enjoyed instead of just reading something because it was assigned.” 

Beth credited Dave Peros for his tangible application of the most fundamental advice for a writer: Show, don’t tell. 

“Mr. Peros encouraged me to use more adjectives and descriptive vocabulary. He sat down with me and showed me examples in my writing,” she said. 

Beth also underscored Joanne Holcomb’s genuine interest in learning about her students in order to connect them to the material. 

“Mrs. Holcomb took the time, not only with me, but with others, and students really appreciate those teachers who listen to them and their needs, so they can figure out what’s going to help each student best,” she said.  

“It’s more than just, ‘This is what we’re trying to accomplish with the subject,’ but instead, it’s asking, 'How can I help this student in particular?’ I see a lot of that here,” Beth said. 

Those lessons continue to impact her. She also draws on her own experience, knowing how vital it is to be motivated and inspired. 

“I’ve really enjoyed being here, and doing what I do. Working in Special Education kind of spills over into everything. It’s the idea that not everyone learns the same way, and it’s so important to understand how a child learns. What might work for you might not work for me, and vice versa,” she said. 

“The teachers really understand that at East Falmouth and want to help each child learn in their way.”

Sarah E. Murphy