Susan Shapiro: Devoted to students, study of history for 42 years

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Andrew Burke-Stevenson

While she’s spent the last year teaching remotely, students will long remember the sight of Susan Shapiro sitting at her desk, decorated with mementos of her career. “She wants to give and share and ensure that everyone is ready to tackle whatever they have to tackle here at Lab,” history teacher Holly Johnston said.

Adrianna Nehme, News Editor

In 1978, Susan Shapiro was weighed down with the disappointment of not being chosen to work at the Laboratory Schools as a history teacher. Three days later, after the chosen candidate at Lab quit the job a week into the school year, Ms. Shapiro soon got a call asking to replace the teacher. This altered her future and allowed her to infuse her passion for history and world events into the Lab community for 39 of the past 42 years, taking time away to have children. 

After years of wearing various academic hats including academic adviser, club adviser and history teacher, and being seen as a nurturing, thoughtful and inquisitive scholar, Ms. Shapiro will retire at the end of the 2020-21 school year.

Ms. Shapiro has been a strong advocate of the advisory program and served as a lead adviser.

 Meghan Hammond, Ms. Shapiro’s advisee, said, “She was always there to help, and if I wasn’t doing well in a class, or I was having trouble keeping track of my homework, she was always there to come up with some sort of strategy for how I’m going to fix this.”

Whether with her advisees or colleagues, Ms. Shapiro is always willing to share a piece of her wisdom and provide assistance, something that history teacher Holly Johnston has noticed throughout the past four years working closely with her. 

“She wants to give and share and ensure that everyone is ready to tackle whatever they have to tackle here at Lab,” Ms. Johnston said. “She showed me that you can absolutely have the highest expectations of your students, but if you’re going to do that, you have to help get them there.”

Such a devotion towards her students and colleagues is something Ms. Shapiro hopes to be remembered for. The students at Lab who made Ms. Shapiro’s experience valuable is a memory she will carry, despite the many changes Lab endured over the years.

She showed me that you can absolutely have the highest expectations of your students, but if you’re going to do that, you have to help get them there.”

— Holly Johnston

“Whatever the social issues that arose, the school had the most wonderful children, the most extraordinary scholars and kids who made getting up in the morning worthwhile,” Ms. Shapiro said. 

Ms. Shapiro said she will forever remember the spirited nature of the students, something she experienced firsthand with the Class of 1979 during their senior prank.

“They brought in, through what was then the high school doors, a Volkswagen Beetle that they had taken apart and put back together again on the high school landing,” Ms. Shapiro said. “It was hysterical to walk in the morning and go, ‘There’s a Beetle in our hallway.’”

In addition to her many contributions to students and faculty at Lab, Ms. Shapiro is known for extensive work with the Jewish community, and she has served as adviser for the Jewish Students’ Association since its founding in 1995.

While Ava Eggner, current JSA president, was initially intimidated upon meeting Ms. Shapiro, Ava’s mindset quickly shifted after experiencing her affable and candid nature.

“When I first met her in the context of JSA, I noticed her appreciation and fondness of her religion and others who share it,” Ava said. “She creates a very fun and accepting environment.” 

Additionally, Ms. Shapiro ran her first Holocaust class in the fall of 1995, which included a trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., as a part of the curriculum. The trip served as an opportunity for students to research their final paper topics.

World language teacher Marianne Zemil, who teaches about the Holocaust in her AP German class, looks up to Ms. Shapiro as a valuable resource on this topic.

“Everything that she does around Holocaust education made me think on a different level about how I was teaching the Holocaust to my German students,” Ms. Zemil said. 

Ms. Zemil appreciates Ms. Shapiro’s strong presence at Lab to support her students’ voices and opinions.

“In all the time that I’ve been at the school, no one else that I can think of even comes close,” Ms. Zemil said. 

While Ms. Shapiro is leaving Lab, her work in supporting the members of the Lab community isn’t over. She hopes to continue to educate and work on the topics of the Holocaust and genocide and is already in touch with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 

“As we grow older, and kids grow older, there are going to be fewer and fewer people to provide the foundational information about what happened and why,” Ms. Shapiro said. “I think that’s one of the reasons that anti-Semitism has reared its ugly head so forcefully in the last couple of years.”

Ms. Shapiro will meet with Ms. Johnston over the summer to discuss course opportunities and various other opportunities.

“This is going to be after she is done with the school year and retired,” Ms. Johnston said, “which shows how she is still thinking about how she can contribute and help Lab.”