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School sweethearts: Stories of true love between teachers, drawn from America’s classrooms

Photo Illustration by Sarah Glen/Chalkbeat
Photo Illustration by Sarah Glen/Chalkbeat

It shouldn’t have been surprising that Abbas Manjee and Melissa Giroux sometimes delivered coffee to each other’s classrooms. Teachers at their school did that all the time.

But their students always called attention to the gesture by suggesting that the two were in love. “The kids would erupt in ‘oooooooooooooooohs,'” Manjee recalls. “Maybe they knew before we did.”

Five years later, Manjee and Giroux are married — making them one of countless couples that came together while working together in schools. Nearly 20 percent of married Americans who work in education have spouses who do, too.

This Valentine’s Day, Chalkbeat is looking at some of the love stories that launch in teachers’ lounges, professional development sessions, and after-school happy hours every year.

Meet the happy couples below. We’ll be adding more stories every day next week. Want to see yours included? Let us know.

Kassandra and Cornelius Minor

The setting: Kassandra and Cornelius met in the bagel line on their first day at the Brooklyn School of Global Studies in 2006. Each had come to teaching through the NYC Teaching Fellows program; Cornelius had previously taught in the Bronx and Kass had moved from Chicago just weeks before.

The mood: Kassandra was immediately taken with Cornelius’s dreadlocks. Their first conversation came a few days later when Cornelius helped Kass find her way to the subway. Soon, they started dating. Cornelius proposed to Kass onstage at a concert by hip-hop artist John Forte. When students found out, they made a congratulatory movie. “To this day it is the most touching thing a kid has ever done for me outside of our family,” Kass says.

A story: Cornelius taught seventh grade and Kass had many of his students two years later in ninth grade — a time that many middle school teachers fear. “To send them forward to someone that I love and that I know is going to love them as much as I did, that’s really powerful,” Cornelius says. “It made it where we could care about anything together, accomplish anything together.”

The update: The pair married in 2010 and added daughters to their family in 2012 and 2014. They also left Global Studies, which went through a turbulent period and eventually closed. Both now work at Teachers College — with an hour’s commute from their Park Slope home. “It’s kind of our only alone time. … We try to steal lunch together whenever we can,” Cornelius says. Kassandra adds, “We call it a date sometimes.”

Ybelka Medina and Geoffrey Schmidt

The setting: Geoffrey was “emotionally exhausted” after working at an alternative school in a secure juvenile facility for five years. A friend invited him to visit Innovation Diploma Plus High School, an alternative school in the Bronx. The first classroom he walked into was Ybi’s; she was in her first year teaching social studies.

“Here’s this powerful and passionate young woman who’s speaking to young men — some of them, due to severe lapses and delays in their education are only a couple years younger than her — and she’s this social justice warrior for them even if they didn’t know it,” Geoffrey recalls. “She was holding them accountable, challenging them with a really significant assignment, and letting the frustrations of fighting a broken system just kind of roll off her shoulders so she could teach. I decided that day, for other good reasons, I wanted that job; but I also decided I really wanted to know this person.”

The mood: The pair initially feared that more would divide them than bring them together.

Ybi: “I am a Dominican immigrant that grew up in a blue-collar family that depended on social welfare to make ends meet in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Geoff is American, comes from a solid white-collar family … and initially came off as a total frat boy more interested in socializing then actually teaching. I really liked hanging out with him … but didn’t take him seriously as a teacher nor as someone to date. But then as we spent more time outside of school we started really delving into the reasons we each became teachers and how that drove our instruction.”

Geoffrey: “Eventually Ybi realized that even though our experiences leading up to being educators of change may have been different our genuineness and commitment was the same.”

A story: The best man, officiant, and a speaker at their 2012 wedding all worked at Innovation Diploma Plus with them. “They are guys I would walk through fire with for the rest of my life, because they walked with grace through fire every day I knew them,” Geoffrey says.

The update: The pair moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, in 2014, where Geoffrey is the director of school culture at an alternative school designed to give students who have struggled elsewhere a rich college preparatory curriculum and lots of support. Ybi teaches English as a second language at a charter school that is trying to turn around a long-struggling school. Their son, born last fall, attends day care with the children of some of Geoffrey’s students.

Abbas Manjee and Melissa Giroux

The setting: They met in 2012 as founding teachers at ROADS II, a charter transfer high school in the Bronx. Melissa taught English and Abbas taught math. Each had worked at district-run schools previously, Melissa at a traditional high school with a high dropout rate and Abbas at a transfer high school.

The mood: ROADS was a high-stress environment, with teachers all working long hours and wearing many hats. They also worked very closely with the same group of students, so it was inevitable that they got to know each other well.

Melissa: “I admired Abbas’s ability to build relationships with kids through humor and tough love. Even though I was totally annoyed by his need to make sarcastic comments in every meeting, I respected his point of view. And then one day we went to happy hour alone when the rest of the staff backed out …”

Abbas: “The first thing I noticed about Melissa was her teaching style — it was student-centric and she was able to encourage students to produce fantastic writing. During meetings I would sometimes use sarcasm and I noticed she would not only laugh, but one up me. The rest is history.”

A story: It was common for teachers at ROADS to bring each other coffee from the nearby Dunkin Donuts.

Abbas: “Every time I brought Melissa a coffee during class, the kids would erupt in ‘oooooooooooooooohs.’ Maybe they knew before we did. … One student, Kelvin, would call Melissa ‘mom’ and me ‘dad’ long before we were together.”

Melissa: “My favorite thing about teaching at the same school as Abbas is the shared former-student family we have. A couple of weeks ago we went out to dinner with four former ROADS kids, including Kelvin.”

The update: Melissa works with a nonprofit that places mentors in middle schools and is getting a master’s degree in urban policy and leadership at Hunter College. Abbas joined an ed tech startup called Kiddom as its chief academic officer. Together, they’re about to set out on a trip to the Netherlands and Belgium — the eighth and ninth countries they’ll have visited together. (Vietnam, in April, will be number 10.) They married at City Hall in 2015 and have a cat named Chairman Meow.

Brittany and Grant Monda

The setting: Brittany and Grant each joined Teach For America in 2010 and were placed in Memphis. Their paths crossed in their second year when they each taught the same subject at different schools and also enrolled in a master’s degree program at Christian Brothers University. “That’s when the sparks really flew!” Brittany says.

The mood: Brittany had a reputation for having strong resources and materials for her students. Grant asked for them — and her phone number.

A story: Grant started a soccer program at his school. Brittany brought the team — which went winless its first season — the customary soccer snack of cut oranges.

The update: The pair married in 2015. Each is still working in Memphis schools, Grant as head of school at Aurora Collegiate Academy Elementary and Brittany as the executive director at Memphis College Prep Elementary.

Gabbie Frey and Grant Thomas

The setting: They met in 2011 at New Orleans’ Akili Academy. Grant was a fourth-grade teacher in his first year at the school but his third year teaching, and Gabby was a kindergarten teacher in her first year of Teach For America.

The mood: Grant noticed Gabbie’s vibrance on the first day of school, but their only substantive conversation the first year they worked together was about the Coachella festival. Then came Hurricane Isaac the following fall, when school was closed for a week. Gabbie’s building had power and air conditioning; Grant’s did not, and he headed over.

The two started dating but didn’t tell others at school right away. “There was some secrecy involved,” Grant says. “It made going to work even more of something to look forward to.”

A story: Gabbie used to take students to Grant’s classroom to expose them to the behavior of more mature students. “She had a kindergartener who figured out before any of my fourth graders did,” Grant recalls. “She was a savvy or intuitive kid and figured out that Ms. Frey made a lot of trips to Mr. Thomas’s classroom.”

The update: Both left the school in 2013. Gabbie moved to New York City and started working at Harlem Village Academy, a charter school. Grant moved to Nashville to get a master’s degree at Vanderbilt University. In 2015, he took a job at a college readiness nonprofit and joined her in New York. They now live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with their dog Maya.

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