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Courtesy of Trenna Passalacqua

Trenna Passalacqua, left, and retiring teacher Marsha Mucci – masks removed momentarily – have worked together for years at Blueprints.

BY RICK SHRUM

Marsha Mucci was a Bentleyville kid when she met her first teacher, and most memorable one.

It was her sister, Andrea Mucci – nearly four years Marsha’s senior.

“My sister had a chalkboard when we were little,” Marsha recalled. “Our mom and dad thought education was the most important thing in the world. They wanted us to go to college.”

The daughters did, and Andrea followed her early lead, becoming an educator after graduation. Marsha, however, yearned to be a fashion designer.

She enrolled at nearby California State College, now California University, largely to discover life on her own. And while Marsha did commit to a dual major – early education and early childhood development – she wasn’t seriously considering the classroom as a career.

Enter Sharon Washlack, a Bentworth High and Cal friend, who had been working at Community Action Southwest. “She asked, ‘Why don’t I come out to try a program called Head Start?’” Marsha recalled.

She applied for a teaching position and landed it, at the Canonsburg Center. That was 1974.

The career she didn’t want to pursue? It just ended, after 46 years.

Nearly a half-century later, Marsha Mucci has retired as a Head Start teacher with Blueprints, formerly known as Community Action Southwest. Blueprints, according to its website, is a nonprofit “that serves 20,000 residents” at nearly 30 facilities in Washington and Greene counties and West Virginia.

Head Start, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides early childhood education, health, nutrition and parent involvement services to low-income children and families.

This was quite a juxtaposition for the would-be fashion designer of the ‘70s.

“I didn’t like kids back then,” Mucci, now 67, said while laughing from the Bentleyville home where she was raised. “I didn’t grow up with kids, except my sister. I never baby-sat.”

She worked entirely in Washington County, most recently at the Washington location on West Beau Street. Mucci also worked in Canonsburg and Donora.

The Washington center shut down in mid-March because of the coronavirus, but Marsha returned there recently for a retirement party – outdoors with masks and social distancing. The pay wasn’t great, she acknowledged, but the career experience enriched her beyond expectations.

“It was truly divine intervention that I found my calling, and it was teaching,” Mucci said. “I got hooked on it. I saw the impact I had on parents and children, and how children could be transformed. They were so hungry for information, so eager to learn.”

Marsha, who spent about half of her Head Start years working in Washington, said it took her only “about a half-year” to get hooked. “I realized I was a catalyst who could make an impact, who could ignite kids’ imagination, get them excited about learning.

“They come in confused, with different sets of rules at home. There were little things, like standing up, sitting down, standing in line. They were like blank canvasses. I had to adapt my curriculum for each year.”

The work was an education for her as well. Early on, she was introduced to an element she hadn’t previously encountered: poverty.

Mucci said a number of former students have come back to visit, and have invited her to high school and college graduations. One, who graduated cum laude from college and eventually became a lawyer, mentioned her name during the commencement speech.

Two weekends ago, she said, a parent approached her and “said thank you, Miss Marsha, for all that you’ve done for my daughter and nephew.”

This longtime instructor estimates she has had an impact, collectively, on about 14,000 students and caregivers.

Trenna Passalacqua, Blueprints’ vice president for human resources, worked closely with Mucci for many years and treasures the experience. “She has touched thousands of lives,” Passalacqua said. “She is amazing.”

That sentiment is mutual. “Trenna has been instrumental in what I have done during my entire career,” Mucci said. “We’ve never had a cross word between us.”

She had praise, almost literally across the board, for her co-workers. Mucci singled out Darlene Bigler, the company’s chief executive officer; Patricia Martin, her teacher’s assistant the past 15 years; and Brenda Fronzaglio, the Head Start director.

She laments, however, that she didn’t get to work even longer with Wanda Willard, 89, who was involved in the foster grandparents program. Their 18-year union ended when the COVID-19 shutdown began March 16.

Marsha’s educational career ended a little shy of her role model/sister. Andrea was in education for 48 years, as a teacher and manager, including a stretch in Annapolis, Md.

That fashion career? “I did do some modeling, but I’m only 5 feet tall,” Marsha Mucci said. “I’d do a day or evening event, but I have no regrets.

“I worked really, really hard, yet I never felt it was work. But after 46 years of giving 110%, it is time.”

Business Writer

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won eight individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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