Ever since she began teaching in 1967, the Brooklyn native touched the lives of many young scholars throughout the city with her passion for science, the environment and for engaging youth in school.
Former P.S. 41 student Thomas Fennell, 15, had Cilmi as his teacher in the 2nd grade, and after learning of her passing from colon cancer three years ago, he soon began advocating to create a memorial in her honor.
After more than two years of speaking with community and civic leaders and the City Council, Fennell’s work came to fruition last week as Councilman Paul Vallone and Cilmi’s family gathered to replace the 214th Lane in Bayside with a new “Mrs. Geri Cilmi Place” street sign next to the school where she taught so many students.
“My mom told me about her passing away, and I just felt that she was a wonderful teacher and that there should be a tribute,” Fennell said. “Her class was so much fun and just interactive,” he said.
Thomas Cilmi met his wife of 42 years while attending Queens College back in 1963.
“She just was exuberant, she always had a smile on her face until the very last day,” Cilmi said.
Her son Salvatore Cilmi joined his father and dozens of students and teachers at the school last week for the street sign unveiling, recognizing that her family was much larger than he ever expected.
“Having them here today and having them talk about that is very emotional,” Salvatore said. “What it does do is show how widespread her influence was. She meant everything in our lives, but she meant a lot to other people too.”
Vallone said Geri Cilmi Place is the first street named after a teacher in the borough, hard work that he said was worth every minute.
“She had three families; her family, the family she had at P.S. 41 and the environment ,” Vallone said. “She started a garden, she started environmental groups, she worked with the children and she even had plants in her classroom.”
Sari Latto, principal of P.S. 41, will always remember the way she could light up the classroom and find new ways of creating enthusiasm.
“Ms. Cilmi was an extraordinary science educator for our school,” Latto said. “When students walked into her room, their five senses were filled with science. She truly brought science to life for her students and touched many lives.”