When you think back to growing up and going to school almost everyone thinks back to that one special teacher, the one that made you love to learn and made a difference you will remember your entire life.
For so many students who have grown up in Wilmington that person is Leeann Sadowski.
A first grade teacher at since 1988, Sadowski has been helping children and their parents survive the first grade for nearly 25 years.
"First grade is filled with so many milestones both social and academic, and it is amazing to watch it all happen," Sadowski said. "These kids hang on every word that you say. I love their excitement and enthusiasm."
In many ways it seems as if Sadowski was destined to become a school teacher from the very beginning. With an aunt as an elementary school principal and a mom who worked as a school secretary, Sadowski had a lot of exposure to the joys of education at an early age.
"My mom is such a special person," she said. "I used to watch every child that went to the (which at the time was a first through fifth grade school) give her a hug on the last day."
It was at the Boutwell where Sadowski met her special teacher and to this day credits her with helping inspire her to become a teacher.
"Gail Oja was my fourth grade teacher," she said, "and she was so real. She played her guitar for us and told us stories that made learning fun."
The first thing you notice when you enter room B-14, which Sadowski casually refers to as "my home away from home," is how bight and cheerful everything is. "I want an environment that kids want to come to," she said. "If the room is cold and uninviting, it's not going to work."
From day number one Sadowski's students know the most important rules of her classroom.
"I tell my students that for 180 days we are going to be a family," she said. "We will work together, learn together and nobody laughs at each other unless they tell a joke."
It is that loving family environment Sadowski creates that has made her a favorite among students and parents alike.
Rosa Pendenza's son Matt had Sadowski.
"Well besides the fact that Ms. Sadowski was a wonderful teacher for Matt the one thing that stuck out to me during his first grade is how affectionate she was with him," she said. "She would know exactly when he needed a hug and she had no problem giving him one right away. Matthew was struggling throughout the school year but every morning he would love to go to her class and he knew he would feel support and love from his favorite teacher."
After years of being a "classroom mom" to her students Sadowski decided it was time to have a child of her own. After extensive research on single parent adoption she decided to apply to an agency in Guatemala. "You could wallpaper my home with all the paperwork I had to fill out," she said, "but it was all worth it."
Fourteen months after applying Sadowski and her parents flew to Guatemala and brought Jonathan home to Wilmington.
"Every night that I waited for him I prayed to my grandmother's memory that he would know I loved him and that I was going to be his mom," Sadowski said, "and when we picked him up he never cried. I know she helped me."
Sadowski absolutely glows when she talks about Jonathan. "He never had an adjustment problem, he is the most adaptable, happy kid ever," she said. "Jonathan is my whole life."
Equally as proud in return, Jonathan explained what it like to grow up in a town where everyone knows your mom."Whenever we go to the supermarket either the cashier or the bagger or the deli people know her," he said. "People always know who I am but I've never met them."
While Sadowski has always taken pride in being a loving and affectionate teacher having Jonathan has given her a whole new perspective."I look at my students," she said, "and I know that they have parents at home who love them just as much as I love my son."
"I sit at the school concert every year and cry right alongside the parents," she added. "I truly hope they realize how genuine I am. They trust me with the most important people in their lives."
Pendenza certainly knew what a difference Miss Sadowski made for her son. "By the end of the school year I felt she made a difference for Matt since he felt confident that even if he was struggling in school he had the support and those little hugs would come when he needed one," she said.
Still happy with her decision to enter the world of teaching Sadowski plans to stay at Shawsheen and continue helping her students negotiate the first grade for a long time to come.
"When I finally do leave it certainly will not be because I don't love it," she said.