Teaching 'outside the box'

CONNOR HOFFMAN/STAFFHeather Pedini, kindergarten teacher and organizer of the annual Flag Day ceremony at Royalton Hartland Elementary School, holds the flag that U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer had flown over the U.S. Capitol on Flag Day 2017. The certificate she's holding says the flag was flown "for Mrs. Heather Pedini on the occasion of Royalton Hartland Elementary's Patriotic Salute to the American flag."

MIDDLEPORT — Heather Pedini, a kindergarten teacher at Royalton Hartland Elementary School, might be one of the most patriotic people that you will ever meet. 

To Pedini, the organizer of the annual Flag Day ceremony at the elementary school, the American flag is a symbol of "our freedom and the people that fought for it and sacrificed so much" — and also hope. The sight of Old Glory reminds her of her grandfather, who was a prisoner of war in World War II. 

"It's the most beautiful thing ever to see it fly," Pedini said. "Ask my husband. Every time we go some place and I see it flying, I get all excited." 

Also exciting to her — but not in a good way — are the times when she has seen the flag burned. "I have a hard time ... because usually the people burning it have no idea that what they're trying to put across has nothing to do with that flag, because the flag is people, it's not our government," she said.

Pedini grew up in Middleport and is a graduate of Royalton Hartland Central School. Some of her favorite childhood memories arise from playing outdoors, doing chalk drawings whenever the weather allowed, and, during the Christmas season, doing "projections."

"At Christmastime, my mom used to let us down in our foyer put all of this butcher paper up and I would project scenes and I would do those. So, like her favorite was a Christmas one where it was a church and the sun came through the window," Pedini said.

In high school, as she contemplated what career to pursue, two possibilities rose to the top of her list: she wanted to be either a Marine gunnery sergeant or a teacher. The Early Childhood Education program at Orleans-Niagara BOCES sparked her interest in the latter option and ultimately teaching is the route she chose, in part, she confesses, because she was a "homebody" who didn't think she'd fare well so far away from her parents.

Pedini earned an associate's degree in early childhood education at Jamestown Community College and a bachelor's degree in arts for children at SUNY Brockport. During her time at JCC, she was present of the student council and joined the Middleport Area Tourism and Beautification Committee, of which she said she's still a member today.

After she graduated from SUNY Brockport, Pedini got hired by her alma mater, as an elementary art teacher. Since then she has taught first, second, third and sixth grades and now she's teaching kindergarten.

Pedini describes her teaching style as "outside the box" rather than "traditional."

"I do a lot that's traditional. But I'm kind of loud and silly, so I don't fit ... what you look at as the old type of teacher," she said. "My room's pretty lively. So they can explore and I do teach them that it's OK to make a mistake, and I do show them ... that it is OK and that you need to believe in yourself and try."

Roy Hart Elementary Principal Donna VanSlyke said Pedini is a "dedicated" teacher who "does what's best for her students."

Pedini's true joy is organizing the annual Flag Day ceremony on behalf of the whole school. Each year, she creates a presentation that commemorates a significant event or figure in American history. Her Flag Day 2017 presentation revolved around the Korean War; in prior years she has spotlighted Mount Rushmore, Iwo Jima and Neil Armstrong. Impressive, hand-crafted statues have played a role in her more recent presentations.

"Every year, the (ceremonies) get better and better," VanSlyke said, adding that her personal favorite among the six that she has seen was the one dedicated to Mount Rushmore.

"Just the background history and the research (Pedini) does to go into planning her event is amazing. They're all my favorite, but I think that one stands out the most just because of ... how she made those (presidents on the) monument move and speak," VanSlyke said.

Creating statues for the Flag Day program requires thriftiness and experimentation, according to Pedini.

"I look at something and say 'oh that would be really cool' and I save a lot of stuff. There's a lot of trial and error to see what works and doesn't," she said. 

Pedini and her husband Shane have five children between them: Blake, 15, Melina,19, Chandler, 21, Madison, 17, and Jaden, 15. Pedini says her hobbies include collecting flags, gardening, painting and volunteering with Pick A Reading Partner.

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