Burrell community mourns loss of beloved teacher
It will be a somber day when Burrell School District students and teachers return to classes next week as they try to grapple with the unexpected loss of longtime middle school teacher Sharon Regoli Ciferno.
Ciferno, 50, of Lower Burrell died Monday as a result of the injuries she suffered when she accidentally fell off a balcony Aug. 4 during a vacation. Ciferno's brother, David Regoli, said his sister was on a trip with her daughter and two other people in California and had decided to spend a few days in Mexico as part of the trip. He said she was sitting on a balcony when she lost her balance and fell. She was rushed back to the United States to a San Diego hospital, where she died Monday.
Regoli said his family is a tight-knit group that talks every day. He had been keeping in contact with his sister while she was gone.
"I was texting her really up to maybe an hour or two before she fell," Regoli said. "She was texting about how much fun they were having."
Ciferno had been a teacher in the Burrell School District since 1990. She taught sixth grade social studies.
Huston Middle School Principal Brian Ferra said the loss of Ciferno will leave a void in the school. He expects everyone to pull together and support each other during this difficult time.
"She wore her heart on her sleeve," he said. "She would do anything for anyone."
He said the school would have extra counselors available during the first days of school. He said a long-term substitute teacher had already been put in place when the district first found out about the accident earlier this month and knew she would need time off to recover. He said that long-term substitute will remain in place until a permanent decision is made.
"You're never going to replace her as a person," Ferra said.
Rising seventh-grade student Maddie Gerthoffer, 12, just had Ciferno as her social studies teacher last school year.
Gerthoffer said she loved having Ciferno as her teacher because she made learning fun.
"She didn't care about who you were or what your background was; she just loved teaching," Gerthoffer said. "She was so kind to me."
Lower Burrell resident Regina Seidel said all three of her kids had Ciferno as a teacher. Seidel said her 12-year-old twins, Bella and Camden, had her last year and her oldest daughter Abby, 19, had her in middle school.
"From a parent's standpoint she was wonderful — all the parents loved her," Seidel said. "She definitely was one of the kids' favorite middle school teachers."
Seidel said Ciferno had expressed to parents and students last year that they were some of her favorite classes and had reignited her love of teaching.
"It's been tough on these kids," Seidel said.
Abby Seidel said Ciferno instilled a love of reading in her that she carries with her today.
"She was one of my favorite teachers ever," she said. "To this day, I can say she was so amazing."
Kathy McLafferty said her daughter Stephane, 14, was able to connect with Ciferno a few years ago because she gave her the extra learning support she needed due of a visual impairment.
"Mrs. Ciferno was one of the best teachers my daughter has had through her nine years of schooling," McLafferty said. "She was always willing to go above and beyond to do what she needed to do for the students."
She said her son A.J., 11, was going to have Ciferno as his teacher this year.
"He is very upset," she said.
Stephane said she thought of Ciferno as a second mom.
"She was just somebody who didn't treat you as little kid, she treated you as you deserved," Stephane said. "She wasn't just a teacher. She was a friend, she was your peer, your inspiration — at least to me."
Ciferno is survived by her husband, John, and two children John, 17, and Alexis, 15.
She is also survived by her parents, former county commissioner and state Sen. John Regoli and Dolly Regoli. She is survived by two brothers, David, who is a former Westmoreland County judge, and former New Kensington Councilman John Regoli Jr.
David Regoli said Giunta-Bertucci Funeral Home would be handling the arrangements and a Mass would be celebrated at Mount Saint Peter Church in New Kensington, but no dates had been set.
Regoli said his sister's organs have been donated to five people. He said his family has found some comfort in knowing she was able to help so many others.
"She brought life to five people," David said. "My dad prayed last night that some grieving father was able to have his prayers answered last night — that my sister saved some other daughter's life."
Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4680, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @emilybalser.