MAHOPAC, N.Y.— Mahopac High School senior Vanessa Parrillo has her heart set on a career as an elementary school teacher, but if that doesn’t work out, there’s always politics.
For four years running, Parrillo has been elected to the office of class president—culminating her senior year with being selected executive president, which means she oversees the student body government.
“I was involved in student government back in middle school, but not to any elected position,” she said. As it turns out, she had higher aspirations.
In grades 9 through 11, Parrillo ran for class president uncontested. This year, however, she had an opponent and had to do some actual campaigning.
“Yeah, I had to campaign. I went from classroom to classroom,” she said. “I told them, I have the experience; I know everything that’s going on.”
She called her four-year tenure on the top of the political ladder “a great opportunity to serve as a leader to my peers.”
As she’s moved up from grade to grade, now serving as executive president, Parrillo said the duties have gotten more complex and challenging.
“You have a lot more responsibility; more to do,” she said. “There’s Kiwi Day, where all the seniors go to the [Kiwi] Camp. There’s the prom, pep rally, homecoming, spirit week. You have to be part of all that.”
But Parrillo said one of the more interesting aspects of her role as executive president was being part of the team that interviewed candidates for the role of interim athletic director. The district began searching last year for someone to temporary fill the role of AD after John Augusta was asked to become interim high school principal after Dr. Adam Pease was promoted. The district eventually hired Ronald Montalto to fill the post.
She was also in on the interviews with candidates applying for special ed English teacher.
“I want to be an elementary school teacher, so it was interesting to see how they do it,” she said.
Parrillo, who is a member of the National Honor Society, won the Comcast Leadership Award for her singular commitment to community service.
“It’s all about community service and leadership qualities,” she said. “We have to do 60 hours of community service [to graduate high school], but I’m close to doing 300 hours.”
Part of that service was acting as stat girl for the girls’ lacrosse team. She developed an interest in the sport because of her brother, Vincent, who played for Mahopac High School. She played a bit herself, but discovered she enjoyed the game more from the sidelines than on the field.
She also took part in Yorktown’s Midnight Run, a charity that helps bring clothing to the homeless in New York City.
“It was such a great experience to see how you can impact someone’s life,” she said.
Parrillo also volunteers to teach some basic Italian to elementary school kids at the Mahopac Library. It’s a program set up by the Italian National Honor Society, of which she is also a member.
“We do basic things like animals, the alphabet, clothes, food,” she said. “It’s a 10-week program that meets on Saturdays at the library.”
Parrillo admits she’s not exactly fluent in Italian, but would like to study there if the opportunity presents itself. She went there the last summer with a group of fellow students and teachers and would love to return.
At school, Parrillo is a member of the WISE program, which helps set up students with internships throughout the community. Parrillo, who has wanted to be an elementary school teacher for as long as she can remember, interns in a first-grade class at Fulmar Road Elementary.
“I do a lot of observing,” she said. “But I do some hands-on work with the kids, teaching them. I love it.”
The internship, she says, has reaffirmed her decision to become a teacher.
Her father, Vincent Parrillo, said that when she was a child, playing “teacher” was his daughter’s favorite thing to do.
“She would set up these imaginary classes,” he recalled with a chuckle. “She would set up a table and a [chalk] board and talk to the ‘students.’”
Vanessa nodded with a smile at her father’s remarks.
“In my kindergarten yearbook, I wrote that I wanted to be a teacher,” she said.
When she’s not volunteering or interning, she works at paying jobs that include babysitting and being a cashier at Home Goods in Mahopac. For fun, she likes to dance and takes classes at A&E Dance Studio and participates in the occasional recital.
This fall, she’ll attend Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., where she will major in, you guessed it, elementary education.
“With my son, everything was sports and now we are seeing the other side,” Vincent Parrillo said. “We see her progress and how she’s making a difference. She is doing well and the teachers love her.”
Parrillo says, however, her mom is her biggest supporter. When she came home the day she won the election for executive president, her mom greeted her with a big sign that read, “Madam President.”
“She’s my biggest fan,” Parrillo said. “My mom has always encouraged me to keep trying.”