Former Monroeville resident earns teaching award in Florida

| Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

A newsmaker from Monroeville is making headlines again from her new home in Florida.

Gateway graduate Teresa Caracciolo, 38, was named the 2013-14 Teacher of the Year at North Port High School in Sarasota County, Fla. Caracciolo teaches anatomy and biology and serves as chairwoman of the science department. Her success comes as no surprise to family and friends who knew her as a teenager.

“She was one of the most dedicated, driven young ladies I've ever run across, as a coach or a teacher,” former Gateway teacher and wrestling coach Dick Bane said.

Caracciolo said she felt the tears welling up when all five top administrators of North Port High School entered her classroom this school year with the announcement.

“There were flowers and balloons,” Caracciolo said. “It was so wonderful.”

And it's not the first time she has made headlines.

Caracciolo, then Teresa Ribar, made local and national news in 1991, when she participated in the first wrestling match between two female students sanctioned by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.

In the next weeks, Caracciolo said, she was asked for autographs at the mall and fielded questions about her experience at local sporting events. She was crowned Miss Independence in Monroeville a few months later. Caracciolo said the controversy over the match and the attention she received afterward helped her succeed in job interviews and in the classroom.

“Those things shaped and changed me forever,” Caracciolo said. “All of those things impact your social skills.”

The match was not something she had planned on when she entered her junior year of high school, she said. The opportunity presented itself when the wrestling coach for Thomas Jefferson High School added a female student to the roster. So Gateway wrestling coach Dick Bane was forced to either find a female student to wrestle or forfeit the match. Bane also happened to be the manager of Gateway Heights Swim Club, where Caracciolo was a lifeguard.

“He was always a mentor, and (the family) was aware of my athletic talents,” Caracciolo said.

So she trained for the match in less than a week, and she pinned her opponent in 90 seconds.

Her father, Frank Ribar, didn't attend the match. He said recently that he was worried she would get hurt and ruin a potential scholarship to play soccer at California University of Pennsylvania. His daughter also played basketball, ran cross country and was a member of the ski club.

“I said ‘Teresa, you're out of your mind,' ” Ribar said. “I said, ‘You could get some masher in this wrestling match and get killed and ruin everything.' ”

Since then, she has thrived as a high school teacher, boys soccer coach, and boys and girls swimming coach in Florida.

Outside of school, Caracciolo is involved in a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) policy-reform initiative of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and George Washington University's Graduate School of Education and Human Services. She has used ties with MIT to connect her students with some of the best science minds in the world, North Port Assistant Principal Bill Massolio wrote in a letter of recommendation for Teacher of the Year.

“She is truly invested in her students, her colleagues and the school,” Massolio wrote. “She will do whatever it takes to help a student be successful both inside and outside of the classroom.”

Caracciolo is among the teachers nominated for the Sarasota County High School Teacher of the Year, which is decided by the Sarasota County school board. The board evaluates teachers based on criteria that includes the originality of instructional materials, expertise in what they teach, exemplary interpersonal skills and community service. Eventually, one teacher from Sarasota County will be nominated for the Florida State Teacher of the Year award.

“I'm proud she has achieved so much in her life,” her father said.”And this is only the beginning.”

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or

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