Singing Vanessa’s praises: She loves being in choir, teaching our teens

Vanessa Jones is a relative newcomer to the parish, having joined the congregation a bit over a year ago. But in that short time, she has made quite an impact. She became a fully initiated Rome Catholic at the 2023 Easter Vigil, sings in the choir and teaches in the Faith Formation program. Not bad for a rookie.

You majored in inclusive elementary and special education at Syracuse University. Why did you choose that field and was it what you expected? 

I have wanted to be a teacher since third grade. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to teach. I was a physics education major and then I switched to elementary after many long discussions with my advisers and my close friends. 

Describe a typical day as a first-grade teacher.

Being a first-grade teacher is a lot busier than I expected. We have a pretty rigorous schedule every day. However, I try to make time for fun things like arts and crafts, GoNoodle brain breaks and dance parties. 

What motivates you to mold the minds of such young children?

Last year, I took over as a seventh-grade ELA teacher in March and it was a clear divide between elementary and middle school. Our building is pre-k through 8, but it felt like two separate schools. My goal this year is to try and bridge this divide to make all students feel loved by everyone. First grade is a time when students start to really enjoy or dislike school since they start a more rigorous schedule, and I want to make them enjoy it for as long as possible. 

Do you teach special-education students? What are the challenges and rewards of that occupation?

My classroom is not a CT room, but I do get to work with the special-education students during recess and when we do whole-grade activities. I love that SU gave me the chance to dual major in special education and general education. My favorite aspect of special education is being able to work a bit more one on one with students to meet their goals. I love when you can see students click with material, and it is often harder to do that with the special-education students, so getting to see that moment because of work that I do or someone else does is an incredible feeling. 

What got you interested in acting and what satisfaction do you get from it?

I started acting at Proctor when I was in ninth grade. I did it all throughout high school and then took a break from it in college. I recently got involved with it again at Players of Utica. It has been incredible to be back on the stage. I did not realize how much I missed it. It is nice to be able to tell a story for people and have them experience it in different ways. 

Italian immigrants founded our parish, and one of your favorite places to visit is Florence, Italy. Why do you like that part of the “Old Country?”

In 2022, I studied abroad with my university in Rome, Florence, Venice and a bunch of small towns. Florence was the best part of the trip. I like that you got the city feel, but it was not as busy as Rome was. During my time in Italy the food was the best in Florence, and I was able to visit a school, which I really enjoyed. I always tell my friends and family that I would move to Florence right now if I could. 

 You love Taylor Swift. What makes her so special?

I have not seen her in concert, but I did watch the concert film. I like Taylor Swift because she has a way of making you feel heard with her music. 

Are you willing to make a prediction on the Taylor-Travis Kelce romance?

I think they will end up together. However, I wish she picked a Giants player instead of a Chiefs player. 

You joined our parish at Christmastime in 2022, then became a fully initiated Catholic when you were baptized, confirmed and received First Communion the Easter Vigil in 2023. Please describe the process and your mindset about making the decision to become Catholic.

I had been consistently going to church since my junior year of high school. I used to attend Historic Old St. John’s and then Lourdes for a while. I have always found peace at church no matter which church I have been with. I had been thinking about officially becoming Catholic for a while, but it was too complicated with college. I graduated from SU in the fall of 2022 and decided that it was time to finally get baptized, confirmed and receive First Communion. I reached out to Father Jim, who was happy to have me become Catholic. I had class with Father once a week for a few months to talk about what being Catholic meant. It was an enjoyable class, which I attended with my sponsor, Joanne Vanderwood. I met Joanne through choir and knew that she was the right person to be my sponsor. Father Jim made the RCIA process less complicated and enjoyable. 

Why did you choose Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament as your parish?

I decided to join Mount Carmel at Christmastime in 2022 because of my friend David Elacqua who said that the choir at Mount Carmel was the best. I sang in the choir loft at Midnight Mass and found a home. It was a beautiful night and David was right about it being the best Midnight Mass. Ever since then, I have been singing every Saturday for 4:30 Mass and most Sundays for the 8 a.m. and 11a.m. Mass. 

You sing in the choir and teach seventh-graders in the Faith Formation program. Why did you choose those ministries?

I love teaching my first-graders, but after teaching middle school for three months at the end of last school year, I grew an appreciation for the older kids as well. I was starting to miss the older kids, and Anne Elacqua asked me to teach the seventh-grade teen program here at Mount Carmel and I knew that this was the right path for me. My class consists of reading about the Catholic faith, playing games and discussing our favorite aspects of church. We have an open dialogue about our faith, and the kids seem to enjoy it. I sing in the choir because I love music and love getting to hear the incredibly talented people who are in our choir loft. 

What do you think of our parish and parishioners so far?

I love Mount Carmel. I found a second family in the choir loft. There are a bunch of people that I know that I can go to at this parish if I ever need anything. I loved the other churches that I have gone to, but they do not compare to this one. 

You’re just 23 years old. In your perfect world, what do you hope your future holds for you?

I hope to have some involvement in education for my whole life. I like being able to make a difference in the lives of children, whether that is by teaching them or working to improve their lives indirectly. I have students who I taught for as little as two weeks who still come to me to give me hugs, come talk to me because they trust me, or just come to see how I am doing, and that is why I do what I do. I plan to get a PhD in education at some point, but that will not happen for a while. I hope to live my life with a family, a few dogs and a fluffy gray cat. 

Vanessa Jones

  • Age: 23.
  • Education: Bachelor of science degree from Syracuse University majoring in inclusive elementary and special education.
  • Occupation: First-grade teacher at Edward Smith School in the Syracuse City School District.
  • Things you like to do in your spare time: Act (I have performed in a few plays with Players of Utica); arts and crafts. 
  • Favorite places to visit: Florence, Italy; Old Forge.
  • Favorite musician: Taylor Swift.
  • Favorite TV show: “Grey’s Anatomy.”