photo courtesy of John Camardella

Marina Makropoulos, Online News Editor

Pulling into a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru to get his coffee, the worker paused while handing World Religions teacher and former head basketball coach, John Camardella, his coffee and told him he was mad. Camardella was confused at this but understood when the worker proceeded to tell him that he couldn’t take his class. 

Camardella will be taking a sabbatical for the 2021-2022 school year, which is a period of paid leave granted to an employee so that they may study or travel, to spend a year studying in Cambridge, Mass. at Harvard University, and come back home on the weekends. Because of this, College World Religions, the class that is only taught by Camardella at Prospect, will not be offered next school year. 

“I love our program, I love this building, and I just want to take a year to deepen my own knowledge base and then come back here in service of our students and our community,” Camardella said. 

Since October of 2017, Camardella has been working closely with a small group called the Religion and Public Life Program under a fellowship at Harvard Divinity School (HDS). His goals were to rewrite his forty-week World Religion course at Prospect, and to develop graduate courses for teachers. 

He was asked in August of this school year to apply to a one-year masters intensive graduate degree program at HDS, which he agreed to. Camardella applied to the program, was accepted in and then asked District 214 for a sabbatical. He is grateful that his job will be available for him when he returns, as well as to the Prospect community, the administration and the school board who approved his sabbatical rights. 

Camardella, who is about halfway through his career, said he saw this opportunity coming about a year ago as a possibility, but it was never his goal as an educator; he has already achieved all required professional development by completing three masters degrees, and didn’t see himself taking a year off of what he loves to do. 

“I’m just crazy excited,” Camardella said. “I’m humbled by the opportunity and wanna really spend the second half of my career doing this work of deepening people’s understanding of religion and culture whether it’s at the high school level, graduate level, or with my colleagues.”

He will be taking 10 graduate courses, with only two being required, to complete the Master of Religion and Public Life (M.R.P.L.) degree, HDS’ first new masters degree program in over 50 years.

“For me also, there was some intriguing coolness factor of being able to be a part of the inaugural class,” Camardella said. 

He will take the two required courses, and with the help of his advisor he will then build his own masters degree to serve his purposes. While at Harvard, Camardella’s goal is to take some courses at the divinity school, but he also plans on trying to take some courses at the Kennedy School of Government, the law school and at the Graduate School of Education to learn as much as he can.

“I want to try and spend as much time as I can understanding how other people across time [and] across places have experienced the world,” Camardella said.

Camardella has also been building a flying schedule alongside his wife. He will be commuting to Boston and back every week to be on campus for class, lectures and research, and then come home to be a husband and father to his three kids.

This is also the reason he stepped down from his position as head basketball coach at Prospect after 18 years. 

“In order to do justice to this work basketball is not possible anymore,” Camardella said. “So it for sure will leave a hole in my life, but I also will probably be the loudest fan in the stands moving forward.” 

Camardella plans to fly out on Mondays, take classes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and either fly back on Thursday or Friday nights, with the hope of returning home every weekend, which he said will total up to a lot of flyer miles. 

Upon his return to Prospect, Camardella’s goal is to surgically examine his lesson plans and what he asks students to do, offer incredible, rich learning opportunities and sharpen his skills to work with professionals and teachers. 

“I want to put myself in spaces and make my brain think in ways that maybe I’ve never done so before,” Camardella said. “And so when I think of studying religion and culture, as I teach my own students, the way we come at it is through our own situatedness, the way we have experienced the world so for me to put myself as a forty-year-old, six-foot white male who likes basketball, who’s Italian American, that’s the lens that I observe the world.”

For the juniors who won’t be able to take his class next school year, Camardella is sad that he won’t get to know them as seniors. However, the current sophomores who wish to take his class as seniors will have an opportunity to be exposed to what he hopes is one of the most broad and worthwhile learning experiences in the country, and be helped to think in a complex way for the world they will enter as adults. 

“I am sorry, and I don’t expect [the juniors] to understand, but I hope maybe one day they do,” Camardella said. “I’ve reached the point where I know what I don’t know and I’ve found an opportunity to go help fill in that gap of knowledge, and all good things take investment, sacrifice, and time. And, I need to dedicate time and energy and a lot of money to do this to then benefit what I hope is another couple decades of Prospect students.”