The Journeying Educator

From the moment we had been made aware that Marc had received the Fulbright Scholarship from La Salle, the entire Camden Catholic family had showered him with their outpouring of love and congratulations. It’s not something that happens every day, so close by. I was ecstatic when Marc told me. I reflected on a time earlier in the school year when he seemed extremely stressed out. One day in particular, I walked into his office to talk to him. He leaned all the way back in his chair, rubbed his eyes, and stretched out his neck and shoulders, looking uncharacteristically tired. When I asked what was up, he just dismissed it saying,

“It’s just a thing I’m applying for. THE WORK NEVER STOPS! So, what can I help you with, kiddo?”

I didn’t realize then that one of my favorite teachers was in the midst of making one of the most life changing decisions of his career.

I first met Marc Vallone in Green and White, the Ambassador class of Camden Catholic High School. He was the moderator and I was a sophomore at the time. However, I did not actually begin to get to know Marc until that summer when I worked with him on a project for the school. Up until that point, I had gotten the distinct impression that he was a bit of an odd bird and definitely a goofball. I was right. And yet, he would be one among my favorite and closest teachers, an effect that Marc always liked to attribute to being part of “the Vallone charm.”

Since his arrival in Brazil, Marc has been spreading that Vallone charm to everyone he encounters. In an email he sent to his fan following he described a ropes obstacle course that ran over a stream which he came across during a hike in Puim. He said in the email that one of the girls traveling along with him practices silk acrobatics and takes lessons, and tells the story of how she taught him how to do some holds and stances. He commented on his acro skills, saying,

“I was so proud of myself when I did it, thinking I achieved something so awesome and cool and fun and then I had to watch her do the next one and realized how graceless I was. I got a good laugh out of it.”
Marc Vallone on a silk acrobatics course, 2015

At home, the news of the Fulbright scholarship still felt a bit surreal to those who were close to him, especially not knowing the next time we would see Marc again. In my interview with Mr. Joseph Gianfortune, his high school band instructor, he told me,

“There was so much excitement when we heard the news. Everyone is really proud of him. He’s doing great things.”
Marc Vallone, second to left, with his fellow Fulbright Scholarship winners, 2015

Marc Vallone grew up in Collingswood, New Jersey and attended Camden Catholic High School. As a high school student, Marc spent the majority of his time on the swim team, playing in the band, and traveling on the Europe trips. Many of the teachers who knew him as a student have spoken of his witty, outgoing, and genuine personality and of what spirit he brought to each class. But these things I had already witnessed for myself.

From a young age, the examples of his parents inspired Vallone to service. His father, Domenic, founded the city’s Cathedral Kitchen to feed the homeless and the hungry. His mother, Mary Christine, is a physical therapist for developmentally disabled students at the Bancroft School. In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, he told columnist Kevin Riordan that he had been exposed at an early age to things most suburban middle-class kids don’t see. He

“remember[s] talking about the Eagles with a homeless guy at Cathedral Kitchen. I remember playing with kids at Bancroft who had tremendous difficulties in their lives, who were drastically different from me. I learned the value of treating everyone with dignity and respect.”

And so his journey in faith and service began.

While at The University of Scranton, he completed a 10-day service trip to El Salvador, during which he and other students helped build a health clinic. After graduating from Scranton in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, he spent a year teaching English as a Second Language, special education, music and physical education as a volunteer at The Working Boys Center, a human development organization in Quito, Ecuador. The group offered education and family services to the city’s poorest citizens. Marc’s sister, Michelle said in an interview,

“When he [Marc] got his Fulbright Scholarship, I was proud of course, but I felt like I knew he’d get it. But I was most proud of him when he did his volunteer work at The Working Boys Center. It was done without recognition.”

When I asked Michelle how she felt to be away from her brother for so long, she replied,

“It’s not so bad being away. He’s gone on so many trips, that it’s pretty normal now. We still Facetime and Skype. But I am always worried that he’ll get taken advantage of. He is too nice.”

Mr. Vallone has in fact, come across a few troubling situations. In another email, Marc described the time when a man robbed him in a park right by his hotel in Sao Paulo. The man, as he described him, was very ordinary looking. Not somebody who might be expected to mug a guy outside their residence. But he went up to Marc and asked for money:

“I shook my head, said sorry, and patted him on the shoulder. He took my hand and said ‘MONEY’ in what was absolutely perfect English. ‘OH!’ So I reached into my pocket it and gave him 1 R$. He was begging for money, of course. I never really felt uncomfortable but I started to feel like I should just get back to the hotel.
‘No.’ [now I was really confused… he didn’t want the money I gave him?!] “ALL the money” again in perfect English.
‘OH!’ I say again, with a better sense of clarity. ‘Me assalto?’
He said it with a ‘finally!’ kind of tone that actually made me feel a little bad that I didn’t get it the first few times. And the whole picture became clear. He wasn’t brandishing a visible weapon, but that never matters. Ever.”

In another instance, Marc found himself in a biking accident. He shares his story saying,

“I was cruising down a hill on The Red Rider and neglected to see a pot hole, which completely split the front fork and left my bike in pieces and me thrown over the handlebars. X-rays on my wrist were negative, but without the bike, I was forced to revert back to the buses… A transition most unwelcome. It was as if someone took away a bit of my freedom and mobility from me.”
Marc’s bike named “Red Rider” pre-accident, 2015

But this trip has truly been a blessing for not only Vallone, but also the children whom he teaches. Marc loves his job and the people who make it possible and shares that love with his students. As his trip comes to a close, he tells us of a party which the University threw in celebration of the end of term and of the Fulbrighters’ hard work:

“On the last class day, Carley and I planned an açai party for the students, but they too had something planned. We showed up with the dessert and some fixins to find the students waiting with adorable hand made cards. I was asked several times if I could fit a kid or two into my luggage to take them home with me, which didn’t make holding back tears easier. The kids here are tough street kids but with hearts of gold for those that take a chance on them.”

It has now been seven months since Marc’s departure for Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil and now it is time to depart for his next journey. In his monthly “email blast” as he calls it, Marc continues to keep everyone at home in the loop. He tells of his students, and coworkers, the weather and the food. He speaks to the political and social happenings, and he shares the stories of memorable events in his day to day routine. He never fails to include a vignette of something interesting, funny, sad, or beautiful that he encounters and he always finds a way to incorporate some small lesson he took from some of the situations that have faced him. That is the teacher inside him. Always learning, always sharing. In this way, Marc Vallone, who spreads his goodness to the poor and voiceless, also shares it wherever he’s missed.