Erin (Nappe) Bellavia loves the written word, and is eager to share her enthusiasm with her students as an English teacher at St. Mary's High School in Lancaster, N.Y.
Erin is a 1992 graduate of St. Marys Area High School and a 1996 graduate of Allegheny College, where she earned a B.A. in communications and a minor in English. Although she is currently a high school English instructor, she has not always been in the teaching profession.
"I came to this via a non-traditional route. After college, I was a reporter for the DuBois Courier-Express for three years. When I moved to Buffalo, I worked briefly for the Bee Group newspapers and for Western New York Catholic. I decided to return to school in 2002 to get my master's degree and teaching certification in secondary English," Erin explained.
"I enjoyed my newspaper work, because I enjoy writing, but I never really felt the drive or ambition to pursue it further. There was always a part of me that was always kind of drawn to teaching. There were a lot of educators in my family, so it was something I grew up with," she said.
Erin received her master's degree in Education from D'Youville College in 2003, and said although she found it challenging, she appreciated the experience.
"I really enjoyed being in school again, even though it was sometimes hard as an adult student. I liked pushing myself academically," Erin said.
At St. Mary's, she teaches senior English, Advanced Placement literature and composition for juniors, and one sophomore English class. She also teaches a freshman composition course at D'Youville College, and has taught similar courses at Niagara University and Niagara County Community College. Â
"I enjoy teaching the college courses alongside the high school courses, because teaching both gives me an interesting perspective on both. Teaching college classes allows me a little bit more freedom in the planning of the curriculum," Erin said, adding that pursuing a career in education was the right decision for her.
"I feel more at home and confident in front of a class than I do anywhere else," she said.
Erin and her husband, Rand, live in Williamsville, N.Y., near Buffalo. She noted that she and Rand, who is the library director at D'Youville College, enjoy the region's atmosphere and amenities.
"One of the things I appreciate about greater western New York is that it offers you all of the kind of cultural things that you don't necessarily get in a small town, but it's still small enough to have a small-town kind of feel to it. The people are just really nice here," she said.
Erin is the daughter of Mike and Darlene (Morelli) Nappe of St. Marys. Her brother, Justin, graduated from SMAHS in 1999 and lives with his wife, Leslie, in Pittsburgh.
"They always encouraged me to find the thing that was going to make me happy," Erin said of her parents. "They did everything they could to support me emotionally, and even financially here and there.
"MyÂ parents and much of myÂ extended family still live in (or near) St. Marys.Â I get back to visit my family and friends several times a year, although probably not as often as I'd like to."
As a teacher, Erin said she hopes to inspire her students the same way some of her teachers inspired her through the years.
"There are many teachers who influenced me, perhaps most significantly my English teachers - Herman and Vicki Pontzer, and William Granche, in particular - as well as Kris Lyle, my home economics instructor. In different ways, all of those teachers influenced my decision to become a teacher myself," Erin said.
Erin said her communications background and love of writing have also served her well in her teaching career.
"Having this background in writing helps me to help the students become better writers," Erin said. "No matter what you do and no matter what career path you choose, being able to write well, and not just write - to be able to communicate - is important in every career. You want people to understand you and respect you."
She also tries to help her students enjoy learning and gets her inspiration from seeing their success in the classroom.
"I try my best to make things fun and interesting. Sometimes you just have to read the book or write the paper, but I try to come up with interesting ways to relate to things.
"I get inspired when a student asks me a really insightful question, or when I can see that lightbulb go on above somebody's head when we're having a discussion. I'm inspired by kids who really have a drive to learn, when it's not just about going through the motions or getting a grade that's good enough," she said.
In her free time, Erin writes a blog, eringoblog.net, and is one of the editors of an online literary magazine and writing community called Toasted Cheese (www.toasted-cheese.com). She is also a published author.
"In 2004, I had a romantic short story published in Woman's World magazine. Seeing my work in a national publication was thrilling!" she said. "I also had an essay published in a book titled "Inspiration for Greeks," about my views on the college fraternity and sorority experience."
Erin also enjoys calligraphy and even has her own calligraphy business at the popular homemade goods website, www.etsy.com. She first studied calligraphy when it was one of the art forms featured in a course she took in high school, "Studio Art for the Non-Artist."
"I tie it into everything else that I do because it's about the written word. It's just another way that I get to play with words," she said, adding that her favorite items to put into calligraphy are the song lyrics from couples' first dances at their weddings.
Erin's other hobbies include reading and catching performances from one of the many locally-based bands in the Williamsville-Buffalo area with her husband.
"Rand and I are both lovers of live music - in fact, one of the things that brought us together was our mutual love of a Canadian musician named Ron Hawkins. We still enjoy going out to see bands together," she said.
Erin admits that grading papers and planning lessons at both the college and high school levels, as well as teaching the AP course for the first time this year, have left her with less time for some of her hobbies.
"In the past couple of years, I've gotten into yoga. I was attending a class regularly until it became difficult to fit into my schedule. I'm hoping to get back into that," she said.
Erin said that although planning and preparing for her classes may take up much of her time, it is well worth it.
"I love teaching, and I can't imagine doing anything else. While it's often challenging, I find the sense of personal satisfaction I get when a lesson goes particularly well, or when a student 'gets it,' makes all of the challenges worthwhile," she said.