It takes special qualities to be a teacher and a coach. In John Passarini’s case, his extraordinary career has been marked by two outstanding qualities – passion and compassion.
Passarini was honored in 2017 at Gillette Stadium when he received the Outstanding American Award at the 15th annual Massachusetts Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.
The Newton native established the Waltham wrestling program in 1970 and compiled a 145-57-2 record in 12 varsity seasons. The “Outstanding American” Award is given to former wrestlers who are highly successful and use the disciplines learned in wrestling in their profession.
After 18 years in the Waltham system, Passarini joined the Wayland faculty in 1988 as the System Wide Adapted Physical Education Specialist. Adapted Physical Education (APE) is a federally mandated program and ensures that physical education, modified as needed, is provided to students with disabilities and developmental delays.
What separates Passarini from everyone else is the time he spends with each individual athlete and student. Passarini develops deep connections to his students and athletes by not only being a coach and teacher, but by deeply caring about them.
Passarini, a Lexington resident, believes that “nobody is disabled; we are all differently abled.” His program is based on a fundamental respect for the dignity and value of each child. The pinnacle of his success was his selection as the 2003 Disney National Teacher of the Year, chosen the top educator from a pool of 185,000 nominees.
Passarini had been nominated for the Disney Award in 2002 by one of his adapted physical education students, Katie Lynch, whom he had met when she was a seventh-grade student in Wayland in 1988.
Passarini and Lynch developed a special bond from the moment they met until Lynch’s death in 2003.
Lynch was born with a connective tissue disorder and was only 28 inches tall. Yet she had a magnetic personality and despite severe physical challenges and more than a dozen life threatening surgeries, she had a brilliant mind and a “never-give-up” attitude.
Lynch considered herself as an athlete because she trained hard and she was able to accomplish her own marathon by walking 26.2 feet in the 2001 Boston Marathond and raised over $25,000 for Children’s Hospital.
When Passarini received his Doctorate in Education at Boston University in 2001, he received a graduation card from Lynch that read, “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles by it.”
Part of the motivation for Passarini’s career was the education he received in the Newton public schools. Born into an Italian immigrant family, Passarini struggled academically, repeating second grade.
His turning point came when he was a seventh-grade student at Meadowbrook Junior High, where he learned to understand and compensate for his learning challenges and become a dedicated and confident scholar.
At Newton South High, he captained three sports — football, wrestling and baseball - and was elected to the National Honor Society. Passarini was a first team Boston Globe All-Scholastic Football selection, a New England Wrestling Champion, and the All-Suburban League Baseball Catcher. He also won the Boys Senior Cup, which went to the top male graduate.
At the University of Connecticut, Passarini played football and wrestled and began his interest in adapted physical education after meeting Dr. Hollis F. Fait. “He was a beautiful blend of academics and love,” said Passarini. “I remember thinking, ‘What a wonderful man, I want to be just like him.’”
As he heads to his 74th birthday and 52nd year of teaching, Passarini remains active. As an adjunct professor at Salem State University, he teaches both undergraduate and Graduate Adapted PE. Classes, Motor Development, and classes in coaching. In addition Passarini teaches three classes of Adapted PE for the Swampscott Public Schools.
He is also training for his 16th Best Buddies Hyannis Port Challenge Bike Ride and has raised more than $48,000 over the years for that organization.
Passarini has been married to his wife, Gloria, for 44 years. They have three sons — John, Tom and Michael. The Passarinis have one grandson, Jacoby.
Passarini pioneered the ‘reverse mainstreaming approach’ whereby students with disabilities, most notably students with Down Syndrome, invite mainstream students to join their group. “I believe the key to my success as an educator has been my ability to read and understand my students’ feelings and my ability to effectively communicate with my students and their families.” The Passarini Method uses a hybrid teacher/student-centric approach along with a mastery concept methodology to build trust. It can be captured by his personal saying, “Nobody is disabled, we are all differently-abled.”
Says Passarini: “It would be incorrect to label them ‘Down Syndrome students’ because we should label the condition, never the child.”
"I was beyond blessed to have been an undergraduate in one of Dr. Passarini’s first classes. This chapter brings me back to that classroom in the O’Keefe center at Salem State. Dr. Pass had such presence, warmth, and true caring. His stories and the palpable connection he had to his students is what first stirred my interest in adapted physical education. One of my favorite memories is when Dr. Pass came into class and was incredibly honest and open with us and told us about how he fell asleep on his drive home. He was exhausted and running himself ragged in the transition to higher ed. So he told us he felt we all deserved a break and had us all walk over to bagel world for lunch. There are so many lessons in that one memory and I truly cherish that experience."d
· Michelle Ferrer, Ph.D., Eastern Connecticut State University Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education
An Exceptional Child; Special Education in America; The Passarini Method; Passarini Strategy #1: Rely on Short-term Goals, not Long-term Goals; Passarini Strategy #2: Make Mentoring a Priority; Passarini Strategy #3: Become Obsessed with Learning; Passarini Strategy #4: Assess Quickly and Move On; Passarini Strategy #5: Don’t Define Success through Test Scores; Passarini Strategy #6: Establish Trust; Passarini Strategy #7: Develop a Strong Philosophy; Bonus Profile: The Story of Katie Lynch; Passarini Strategy #8: Include Mainstream Students and Faculty; Summary; Reflection
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