Physics teacher Lisa (Bucci) Cante in her Hope High School classroom
They say one reason a man has five daughters is he kept trying to have a son.
Not in the Bucci family.
Lisa (Bucci) Cante and her sisters felt none of the restraints of being female. "We weren't told, 'No, you can't do that because you'll get dirty' or 'No, you can't do that because you'll get hurt,'" she says.
Today she works in the male-dominated field of physics as a teacher at Hope High School in Providence. In her classroom, gender-based pressures – or any other social pressures for that matter – are left at the door.
"My primary goal as a teacher is to make sure that my students feel safe to be themselves," she says. "In high school many students feel pressured to act a certain way, to look a certain way, to dress a certain way. They're struggling with gender and sexual identity. It's hard to wake up and be yourself if you don't know who that is."
Between her parents, who never limited what she could do based on gender, and her high school track coaches, who saw her innate leadership ability, Cante developed a strong sense of self and a core of confidence. She hopes to build the same in her students.
Cante (far right) is coach of Hope High School's cross country team.
She earned both a B.A. in physics and a B.A. in chemistry in 2004 at Rhode Island College, along with a degree in secondary education that certified her to teach physics, chemistry and general science. In 2019 she earned an M.A. in physics education at RIC. She's been teaching at Hope High School since 2005.
Her teaching extends far beyond the physics classroom, however. Cante also coaches the school's cross country team, leads the Science Club and coaches the Science Olympiad team. Athletically and intellectually her students learn to set goals, to persevere, to push themselves and to push through obstacles.
After spending the entire academic year preparing for the Science Olympiad engaged in such activities as Robotics, Bridge Building and Chemistry Lab, Cante's students come to Rhode Island College, host of the event, to compete. The atmosphere is electric, filled with excitement. Just to see hundreds of other students all interested in the same thing is a real confidence booster, says Cante.
Cante's 11th- and 12th-graders compete in the Tower Building competition at the Science Olympiad at RIC.
In the summer, she teaches Upward Bound students at Rhode Island College. In fact, one of her major role models is former director of Upward Bound Miriam Boyajian.
"Miriam was this amazingly independent, strong and powerful woman. When I met her I was 23 years old and fresh out of college," Cante recalls. "Miriam embodied the professionalism and success I wanted. With her staff and students she was no-nonsense yet thoughtful – a balance I yearned to achieve, and she helped the staff and students set high expectations for themselves. This meant a lot to me in terms of my own commitment to my craft. It also reminded me that I, too, can hold my students accountable to the highest of expectations."
Cante has, in fact, achieved that level of professionalism and success. In 2012 she was recognized as the best of the best, being voted Providence Public Schools Teacher of the Year. That same year she was nominated for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
Cante radiates pride in her students.
Another major influence was RIC's Physical Sciences faculty. "They inspired me by their successes and their lives, and I'm always conscious that I represent Rhode Island College and the Physical Sciences Department wherever I go. I want to represent them well," she says.
"Being a woman in science is still not the norm, but at RIC I never felt as though I was inferior or that I had to fight to have my voice heard over the voices of my male counterparts," says Cante. "I cannot say that has been true in my professional life, but it was true in the classrooms and halls of the Physical Sciences Department."
"Even after all these years, when the faculty see me on campus on my way to my Upward Bound class or on my way to the Science Olympiad they still reach out to me with such love and support," she says.
Maybe who we become has as much to do with the freedom we were given to be ourselves as it does with seeing ourselves reflected in the eyes of others. Strengthened by supportive, dedicated mentors, Cante is passing it on to the next generation.