From the inception of the iconic third-grade theatrical production of “Schoolhouse Rock” to student led bromeliad research at Myakka State Park, third-grade teacher Denise Fugere has created a lifetime of memories for every student encountered during her 25 years teaching at Pine View. Despite leaving behind a legacy, Fugere decided to retire from teaching at the end of the school year in order to accept a retirement plan offer.
“At first I thought of it as a funeral, a mourning. All I’ve ever been is a teacher,” Fugere said. “But then I thought, no, it’s like writing a new chapter. I get to do something totally different and new.”
Fugere first moved to Sarasota during twelfth-grade, away from her home in Ohio. She enrolled at Riverview High School and joined the ranks of the school’s theater and speech clubs. After graduation, Fugere attended St. Leo University where she double majored in both theater and education.
Fugere’s first teaching job was at Fruitville Elementary where she taught enrichment — or advanced — classes for 13 years. There, Fugere befriended current Pine View third-grade teacher Suzi Shea. As the teachers at Fruitville were beginning to be redistributed throughout the county, Fugere followed Shea in the move to Pine View. Because Fugere lacked gifted education certification, she learned through courses taught by previous Pine View principal, Steve Largo. Eventually, Fugere began as a Pine View fourth-grade Language Arts teacher and later taught third grade where she truly found her passion.
While never working with any theaters directly, Fugere implemented theatrics into education by creating and directing plays for her classes. This eventually led to her creation of the “Schoolhouse Rock” tradition.
“I think good teachers are actors too. You need to entertain the crowd,” she said. “I try to instill the public speaking and the letting go of who you are while on stage with the kids here… I love seeing them in ‘Schoolhouse Rocks’, to see the shy one that had two left feet dancing on stage and believing that they’re just as important as the one that dances perfectly – which is true — just to see it all come together. I feel like they’re all mine, that they’re all my kids and they’re just blossoming.”
Tenth-grader Harris Lichtenstein said, “Third grade was actually the first year that I was at Pine View, so Mrs. Fugere was the first teacher I ever had here. She was one of the people who helped me fall in love with Pine View.”
Even for longtime friend Shea, Fugere has become a literal part of her family as the godmother of Shea’s son. “I will miss her terribly. I think it’s a big loss,” Shea said. “She’s an amazing, creative teacher. I think the energy she brought, bringing plays to both fourth and third grade has been incredible.”
Fugere said that she enjoys teaching the third grade the most because of student attitude. “The kids are old enough to have a good sense of humor and attention span, but they still think you’re beautiful and wonderful,” she said.
Fugere decided to pursue teaching at a young age. “I knew in third grade — interestingly enough third grade — that I was going to be teacher,” she said. “I loved learning and my brother and sister would say that I love bossing people around. I had a second grade teacher that I loved and a third grade teacher that was really brutal and nasty to the kids. I just remember how it felt. I said ‘I don’t want anybody to feel that way again.’”
Post retirement, Fugere plans to take a road trip with her husband and seven dogs. Her family intends to purchase a used RV and travel around the United States with no designated return date.
Even with what Fugere hopes to be an exciting trip in the future, she can not avoid missing her students. Because Fugere has no children of her own, she said her students “truly are her kids.” In leaving behind a legacy, Fugere hopes to have inspired her students and allowed them to enjoy learning. In response to being asked what she will miss from teaching, Fugere said, “I’m going to miss the kids the most. Period. End of story.”