By Beth Brosnan
In the early 1960s, just a few years after graduating from Lowell State College, Rosemarie Giovino began teaching elementary school in her hometown of Medford. She loved her work and her students, but every year, she recalls, there were always a few children she couldn’t reach, “no matter how hard or long I worked with them.”
Many of these young pupils were clearly bright, but they all struggled with reading — and the more they struggled, she says, the more “they began to think there was something wrong with them.”
Giovino knew there wasn’t, and her determination to find a better way to reach such students led her first to grad school and then to a 35-year career as a professor of education at Fitchburg State University, where she founded the reading specialist graduate degree program. And in 2016, it led her to create a scholarship at UMass Lowell to benefit students pursuing undergraduate degrees in elementary and special education, using a gift of stock to endow the fund.
“Lowell State was such a vital part of my life,” Giovino says now. “I wanted to give back so that undergraduates could get the support they need to become teachers and reach students experiencing academic challenges.”
If Giovino brought a fighter’s moxie to her work, she comes by it naturally. As a young man, her father, Frederick Giovino, was a boxer who had to contend not only with his opponents in the ring but also with discrimination. Fighting under the name Fred Austin, he won the New England Golden Gloves’ championship in 1922. “I still have his medal,” his daughter says proudly.
Though her parents weren’t formally educated, “they filled our house with books and always encouraged discussion,” says Giovino, who, along with her younger brother, Fred, attended local public schools in Medford. Also influential was her junior high school teacher, Jean (Frasier) Lordan, a Lowell State alumna, who encouraged her interest in teaching and her curiosity about the larger world.
Her four years at Lowell State deepened both her curiosity and her love of teaching, thanks to professors like Margaret Shannon, Mary McGauvran, Betty Neilson, Marie Garrity and Virginia Biggy, who were strict and caring in equal measure. “They expected you to work hard and know the content,” Giovino says, “but they were always very encouraging and ready to answer any question.”
Less than a decade later — after a one-year stint teaching in Germany and her six years at Hervey Elementary School in West Medford — Giovino joined their ranks, becoming a member of the Lowell State faculty while simultaneously pursuing her Ed.D. at Boston University, with a focus on special education and reading disabilities. After she completed her degree, she left Lowell, which did not then have a special education program, to join the faculty of Fitchburg State, which did — “and the rest,” she says, “is history.”
Over the next 35 years, she developed the reading specialist graduate degree program; launched courses in special education, language development and speech, and assessment; and supervised student teachers. Just like at Medford Elementary, she forged a special connection with her students, “who worked so hard and cared so much.”
“Teaching is exciting,” says Giovino. “It’s also exhausting, particularly in elementary schools, where there’s such variety among students in the classroom. If you go into teaching, you have to know it’s your job to reach everyone — not just the dream students, but the real kids in our classrooms, with all their educational and emotional needs.”
Although she retired from Fitchburg State more than a decade ago, Giovino hasn’t stopped working or caring. She’s now an adjunct faculty member at both Lesley and Bay Path universities. “I have friends who think I’m crazy,” she says with a laugh, “but I still love working with grad students who are getting their degrees in special education. I know I have something to share with them, and I know they will in turn help their students be successful.”