Joan Marie Balsari was a very unique person. She had an opinion about everything and she didn’t hesitate to tell you what it was. But, she also enjoyed hearing what everyone else thought, too.
A Washington Primary School teacher, Mrs. Balsari passed away in October 2011 after a 17 month long battle with breast cancer. After surgery and follow-up treatment, the veteran educator appeared destined for a full recovery. She had returned to her classroom and the school life she cherished and the world seemed right again.
Mrs. Balsari’s condition deteriorated rapidly over a period of less than two weeks, stunning her colleagues. After she passed away, the Associated Teachers of Huntington, the professional organization of the district’s teachers, announced it would establish a $1,000 scholarship in Mrs. Balsari’s memory and present it annually for the next decade.
ATH President James Graber presented the first Balsari scholarship in 2012 to Samantha Bindrim, who went on to study education at SUNY Cortland. The second annual scholarship was given the following year to Alexandra Reinertsen, who knew Mrs. Balsari well after spending second grade in the teacher’s classroom. She pursued early childhood education studies at the University of Rhode Island with a focus on grades K-2.
The 2014 scholarship went to Evelyn Brandon, who is studying elementary education at Morgan State University in Baltimore. The 2015 recipient was Darya DeSimone, who just finished her sophomore year at Indiana University where she is also studying elementary education. Last year’s award went to Julia Garetano, who is focusing on early childhood education at Manhattan College.
Mr. Graber returned to the microphone in the Huntington High School auditorium for senior academic awards night last month. He announced that this year’s Joan M. Balsari scholarship recipient is Leanne Daly, one of the leading members of the Class of 2017. The teenager is headed to Penn State University where she plans to study special education and teaching.
Huntington’s 2016 Homecoming Day Queen, Ms. Daly has spent countless hours volunteering and working with others. Introduced to the high school’s Special Olympics team as a freshman, she has worked closely with the athletes and head coach Linda Roth as a junior coach.
Ms. Daly participated in the high school internship program and it helped confirm what she wants to do with her life. She was able to observe many special education teachers in the district, including in Finley Life Skills classroom with 12 spectacular students that she instantly bonded with. She was even able to teach a series of mini-lessons.
She’s earned varsity letters with the Blue Devil tennis and swimming teams, yet still had time to work as a nanny for a local family, caring for two children after school; a kindergartener and a fifth grader, including getting the kids off the bus, helping them with homework and feeding them dinner.
Ms. Daly has dabbled in many extracurricular activities, including the Highsteppers competitive dance team as a freshman, student government, Key Club, Habitat for Humanity and Relay For Life. She won the league doubles tennis championship and was Huntington’s recipient of the Suffolk Sportsmanship Award. In swimming she competed in the 100 freestyle and 4x100 relay. She even found time to serve as the wrestling team’s manager.
A Huntington girl
Born to a Huntington family on July 16, 1950, Joan Marie Balsari attended elementary and secondary school here and graduated from Huntington High School with her future husband, Dennis in 1968. The couple’s only child, Denielle graduated from Huntington in 2003. She is currently a teacher in Commack.
Prior to coming to Washington School, Mrs. Balsari worked as a teacher aide and then as a short and long-term substitute teacher in the district from February 1989 through June 1996. She earned an Associate of Arts degree at SUNY Farmingdale, a Bachelor’s degree at SUNY College at Old Westbury and a Master’s degree in reading at Dowling College. She obtained teaching certification in ESL through Adelphi University and secured certification as an administrator through Stony Brook University, where she received an advanced graduate certificate.
Mrs. Balsari was a no-nonsense educator who was adored by her students. During quiet reading or writing time in her room, the gifted teacher was known to play classical music to put her students at ease. At the end of the school day she should would often go home for a few hours and then return to her classroom to work on projects or plan lessons late into the evening.
Known for her laughter and overall sense of humor, had a way of cutting through all the fluff and getting to the point. She’d sometimes let her students teach the class, putting them up at the blackboard and encouraging them to explain concepts to one another. She continues to be missed by the colleagues she left behind.