Swaner adds a teacher’s touch
July 7, 2007
Diana Sabino-Swaner has been a teacher all her life, and not just in the classroom. She’s passionate about learning, a quest that has guided her through a life committed to helping young people realize their full potential. Her story is compelling.
Sabino-Swaner was born in Bethpage, New York, the second of four children born to Catherine and Theodore Sabino. Her parents were Italian immigrants. Her father came through Ellis Island when he was eight years old. His name is still on the wall there. He and his brothers worked hard and saved to buy a 200-acre farm on Long Island, just 10 miles from downtown New York City.
"I have great memories of growing up on the farm, which was literally the last one in Nassau County," says Sabino-Swaner. "We helped our parents harvest vegetables and bottle apple cider to sell in the city and at the small store at the house. I remember we would load up the truck and my parents would break a bottle of homemade wine over it for luck before each trip into Manhattan."
She attended Catholic school in nearby Farmingdale through 8th grade and completed high school at Queen of the Rosary Academy, a Catholic girl’s school run by Dominican nuns in Amityville, New York. "The emphasis all the way through school was ethics," she says. "The most important thing I learned was that the end doesn’t justify the means. That’s kind of a mantra I’ve carried with me through life."
Neither of her parents went past 8th grade, recounts Sabino-Swaner. "They placed a high value on education and instilled that in all four of us children. We all went on to college and got advanced degrees."
She attended Ladycliff College, a Catholic girl’s school in Highland Falls, New York. "The school grounds were actually part of West Point," she recalls. "I worked part-time as a lifeguard at the pool we shared with the cadets. We girls all had to wear long robes whenever we weren’t in the water."
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She once saved a man who hit his head on the diving board and lay unconscious at the bottom of the pool. "All I remember was that he was a really big guy," she says.
Sabino-Swaner learned to ski at West Point. "They had their own ski area and it was free for us," she says. "We had to wear skirts at school, so my girlfriend and I would sneak away with our ski clothes and change in the taxi on the way there. All the ski boots were too big so we learned wearing boots over our shoes. I remember it was a steep hill with icy snow. I learned to turn a lot to survive and became a pretty good skier."
She took her undergraduate degree in education, theology and philosophy. "Back then, the nuns decided what classes you’d take. There were two major choices, nursing or education. I chose education initially because it sounded like more fun that nursing. I soon learned it was the right choice for me."
Bachelor’s degree in hand, Sabino-Swaner headed west with her best friend. "We stayed with friends in Del Mar, California and both got teaching jobs in San Diego. "I liked California a lot," she grins. The California lifestyle was a marked change from the rigors of Catholic school in New York.
She taught 5th grade in San Diego and later in San Francisco. It was the mid-1960s and San Francisco was the place to be. She remembers seeing Janis Joplin perform live at the Fillmore.
"I focused on 5th grade because that’s when young minds are the sharpest," says Sabino-Swaner. "It’s a great age for instilling values, philosophy, ethics and thinking skills. I’ve always felt the challenge isn’t how to get my students to think about curriculum but rather how to use curriculum to get students to think."
She took her Master’s degree in international education/curriculum writing from USC in 1972. The adventurous young woman then took a teaching job in Heidelberg, Germany. While there she met and married an American Army doctor stationed there. The two had a daughter, Alexandra Fulton, who is now a working actress in Los Angeles. . "That’s how I wound up in Utah," she says. "We moved to Salt Lake City, where he completed his residency." They later divorced.
The single mother continued her career in Salt Lake as a gifted education teacher in the Salt Lake and Murray school districts. She was also owner-director of a Montessori School.
She was introduced to Tad Swaner at Deer Valley by a mutual friend who had challenged, "Tad, I know a girl from New York who’s a better skier than you."
Swaner, himself a gifted skier taught by the legendary Alf Engen, took the bait.
Was she a better skier? "Let’s just say I skied well enough to get a proposal out of him," she jokes. "Of course there was a lot more to it than that," she continues. "We shared the same values, and I admired him for his humility and good nature. He’s a kind, compassionate, loving person and that really came through." They married in 1987, settled in Deer Valley and will celebrate their 20th anniversary in a few weeks.
Sabino Swaner joined the family during the genesis of the Swaner Nature Preserve and threw herself into the project with abandon. She has worked tirelessly as a volunteer teacher and promoter and currently serves as Secretary on the Board of Directors.
"I’m passionate about the preserve and especially the outreach program for special needs populations in Park City and the surrounding area," she says. "I think using nature and the preserve to teach values and ethics is invaluable. A day on the preserve teaches lessons these children will never forget."
Sabino Swaner has learned to relax a little in recent years. Although she is just as vibrant and enthusiastic about life and work as ever, she derives pleasure from simple things like gardening and long walks.
"I love walking on the beach, any beach, anywhere," she says. "It’s just so peaceful. Maybe it’s my Mediterranean heritage my cellular memory," she postulates. She says even the beach at Deer Valley will do on sunny winter days.
She has a pet peeve or two about the area, including its rapidly changing landscape and values. "Light pollution is a big problem, especially out around Quinn’s Junction," she says. "Do we really need so much light washing out the night sky? It certainly confuses the local wildlife."
Other issues on her list are the erection of buildings over three stories high and the lack of a citywide recycling service.
In spite of inevitable changes, Sabino Swaner is at home in Park City. "This place has the best year-round weather in the world. Great people live here who are deeply involved in making things better for the town. We also have a great mayor," she summarizes.
She points out the growing Latino community as part of what’s right about the town. "I love the culture and I admire their strong family ethic. They all help each other. That’s a value we’ve forgotten in this country. I guess I see my own parents in them, how hard they worked to give us such a great life."
Married to husband Tad Swanner; two children, Lee and Alexandra.
Favorite things to do in Park City area: ski, walk the trails, garden.
Favorite foods: Everything, especially Mediterranean dishes.
Favorite type of reading, authors: Biographies, histories and the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist monk.
Favorite performers: "Janis Joplin and my daughter, Alexandra Fulton."
Pets: "Pele, a long-haired Chihuahua that think he’s a black lab."
QUOTE: " The most important thing I learned was that the end doesn’t justify the means. That’s kind of a mantra I’ve carried with me through life."
Alternate: " the end doesn’t justify the means. That’s kind of a mantra I’ve carried with me through life."
Sabino-Swaner uses nature to teach values, ethics and interconnectedness. She says compassion is the key.