Coming Home: TFS Alumni Return as Staff Members

“Coming back here just felt like coming home.” These are words from Connor Fodell, 5th grade TFS teacher. Fodell is among five current TFS staff members who were once students at the school. And it’s no surprise they are returning. The Franciscan School is a special place. It’s a wonderful place to grow up as a young student, and it's an encouraging environment to raise your kids in. It’s also a beautiful community to be a part of, no matter what stage of life you are in. 

For Fodell, TFS was his happy place. “My childhood was awesome, I only have fond memories from it,” says Fodell, who is now in his 5th year working at the school. “The happiness just seemed to radiate off the teachers, families, and students.” After Fodell graduated from TFS, he attended Cardinal Gibbons High School and then East Carolina University. After spending a few years in the working world, Fodell knew he wanted to come back to TFS and share the happiness he felt as a kid with students today.

This sentiment is similar for TFS Athletic Director, Carew Bridges. Bridges was a classmate of Fodell, graduating from TFS in 2009. He also attended Cardinal Gibbons High School and Appalachian State University where he graduated with a degree in Health and Physical Education. Shortly after, he received a master’s degree in Sport Management from Western Carolina University. Bridges is now in his 6th year teaching at TFS. He serves as the school’s Athletic Director, PE teacher, and 5th grade Instructional Teaching Assistant. “What I love most about TFS is the community,” says Bridges. “And I love sports. Being around our students as they go through what only sport can provide has been a blast.”

Melissa Walsh, also a classmate of Fodell and Bridges, joined on at TFS during the 2021-2022 school year. Now in her second year as the 7th grade ELA teacher, Walsh wants to provide the same positive relationships with her students that she had while attending TFS. “I always felt like my teachers believed and supported me, and I have stayed in touch with many of them,” shares Walsh. After her time as a student, Walsh attended Cardinal Gibbons High School and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a major in Middle Grades Education. Last year, she received a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from North Carolina State University. “Finding the connections to service at TFS also shaped a lot of who I am today,” says Walsh. She hopes to share that love of service with her students.

For Katie Hall, TFS’s administrative assistant, coming back to TFS has been a breath of fresh air and has helped her focus on her passion of working with children as well as art and design. Hall attended TFS for all her K-8 years, later going to Cardinal Gibbons High School and North Carolina State University. There, Hall graduated with a double major in Mathematics and Art & Design with a focus in animation and interactive media. Since September 2020, Hall has served as the school’s administrative assistant, and she has been using her design skills for special projects throughout the year, like the school yearbook and videos. While reflecting about her time working at TFS, Hall shares that  “The community at TFS is so strong and supportive, and I absolutely love working with children.” 

Grace Longley, a 2015 TFS graduate, is our newest alumni-turned-staff. Starting in August of 2022 as a 1st grade teacher, Longley is excited to be back in an environment that meant so much to her as a child. “As a student, being able to go to school and love every day was so important to me,” she says. “All my teachers created an environment that always made me feel loved and appreciated.” After attending Cardinal Gibbons High School and the University of North Carolina Wilmington with a major in Public Health, Longley says she “wanted to come back and teach the community that gave so much to me and my family. Having three sisters who also attended TFS, it made perfect sense to go back to the place that helped us get to where we are now.”

Over and over, students, alumni, and parents echo the feeling that TFS is special because of its community. Having these five alumni return as teachers and staff members reinforces the strong sense of closeness and togetherness you find on campus. Their desire to return the positive experiences they felt as students and impact the next generation only make TFS an even better place than it already is. 

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