Two brothers raised on the two-square courts of Lake Avenue Elementary School, who survived Maple Avenue Middle School and spent most of their teenage years at Saratoga Springs High School have returned to the district as teachers and coaches.
Jake, 24, and Shane Zanetti, 26, are not just living out a life they contemplated when they were in high school. They’ve also begun to realize a larger vision — that their dad, John, wanted all four of his kids to live and work in Saratoga. Three Zanettis have already graduated from college and are working in the city; the fourth is still in college.
“My dad’s dreams are coming true,” Shane said and laughed, while sitting at the kitchen table in the apartment he shares with his brother. After living together most of their lives, they’re doing it again, just a few blocks from the house their parents still live in on Lake Avenue near East Side Rec.
Shane leaves home each morning for his job as a history teacher at the high school, while Jake is off to teach physical education at Geyser or Dorothy Nolan elementary schools. In the afternoons they’re still involved in sports, coaching — in some cases along with their former coaches. They both assist the cross country teams in the fall and outdoor track in the spring. In winter, Jake works with the wrestling program and Shane coaches indoor track.
This homecoming should be beneficial for the district, according to high school history teacher Michael Miller, who taught both brothers. He remembered two students with a lot of school and community pride, which he believes will spread to their students.
Miller added that teachers and current students are already familiar with Jake and Shane and had positive feelings about them before they started. “They have such a strong reputation of being caring students and individuals,” he said.
That belief was shared by recently retired high school history teacher David Patterson. “They come from good genes, those kids,” he said.
Evidence of those genes is the family’s history with the prestigious Yaddo medal, which is awarded to two seniors each year, and was awarded to Shane and his sister Maddy. Half a century earlier, though, their grandmother won the award. “That whole family is just good people,” Patterson said.
This school year may have been predetermined years ago, as Jake says this is basically the future they’ve envisioned since they were in high school. “It has been a plan that we all come back together and we all end up coaching … together,” he said. “The planets aligned … we’re both back in Saratoga now.”
The alignment was initially off kilter in 2008, when Shane graduated from SUNY Geneseo and ended up taking a job in a small district in western New York. He had settled there after applying all over the state, including Saratoga, where a potential opening never materialized.
A year later, when Jake was in his last semester at SUNY Cortland and applying for teaching positions, the first piece fell into place. Fondly remembering his life in Saratoga, he only applied to districts within driving distance of the city and got lucky by landing the shortest commute possible. Plus, rumored coaching openings for spring track and wrestling were both true and promptly filled by Jake.
“I love it. It is the best job in the world,” Jake said. “The kids come in excited every day and want to try new things.”
David Patterson said he knew teaching would be the right fit for Jake during his senior year of high school.
“I had Jake in my community service class, and I remember that he chose to work in adaptive physical education with some physically challenged kids at Lake Avenue,” Patterson said. “Just watching Jake for 25 minutes with these kids and you could tell this is what he was meant to do.”
While Jake was finding his groove, Shane was also settling into his own life, until three history teaching jobs opened up in the Saratoga district and created a dilemma for him. Sharing his brother’s goal of living and working in Saratoga, Shane left behind a job he had enjoyed for three years, with the hope of settling into a multi-decade career. “This is a 30-year run here.”
That promise sits well with David Patterson. “The district is lucky to have Shane.”
This is an opinion based on a relationship almost a decade old, during which time Patterson nurtured and fostered his former student’s interest in teaching, with discussions over lesson plans and offering opportunities to student-teach. “Just knowing the type of person that he was … I thought he would make a terrific teacher,” Patterson said.
The eye toward the distant future is shared by both brothers, who want to build the same reputations their mentors established. “I can’t imagine in 30 years either of us losing the passion or enthusiasm for what we’re doing,” Shane said. “I think Jake will still think that his job is the best in the world.”
They also hope during that time they can grow the foundation of the high school’s athletic programs, which they want to turn into a year-round co-ed powerhouse in the sports they oversee, and which they played back in high school.
Peter Sheehan, the high school’s athletic director, said the Zanettis can offer student-athletes a unique perspective, having “walked in their shoes.” Even though he was taken aback by their ambitious coaching plans, Sheehan acknowledged that they might have the longevity in them.
“It is kind of a rare breed for someone to stay into coaching and teaching for that long,” he said. “But they both seem very passionate about coaching and teaching for that long.”
They already have a background coaching together, with four years under their belt at a special needs camp for kids in western New York. And since they came up in the same high school athletic system, they were shaped by many of the same experiences. “We share a lot of the same values and philosophies when it comes to coaching,” Shane said. “We expect kids to give 100 percent … and that’s all you can ask.”
He added that they have different personalities and different strengths, which complement each other and will be especially useful for spring track, when they have to assemble a roster together. Shane argued that their teamwork relies on respecting their strengths. “I’m not going to try to pin him, and he’s not going to try to race me.”
The brothers are quick to point out that they’re not the only teachers or coaches who have returned to the district, and Shane said this is good for students. “Saratoga is a great school and it produces great kids,” he said. “If they want to come back, with the things they learned in high school and built on in college, and they want to bring that into our community, that is great.”
There is one problem with teaching with your former teachers: It’s hard to address their new colleagues by their first names.
“That’s a hard adjustment to get used to,” Jake said.
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