Miami-Dade County

How a love of science sparked a father-daughter teaching bond

John Donohue Jr. remembers watching his eldest child, Maria Campagnano, play teacher in the family garage.

“She’d set up the chalkboard and line up her stuffed toys and sister in a row,” the Miami Beach Senior High principal says. “She’d really get into it.”

Campagnano, in turn, recalls how much her father enjoyed his job as a science teacher, then at North Miami High.

“I saw how much fun he had, how much he really enjoyed the students,” she says.

So it would seem only logical that the daughter would follow the father’s footsteps into the classroom, but Campagnano’s journey wasn’t that simple or straightforward. As a student at Barry University, she considered going into medical school because she loved science so much. But one elective course in her senior year changed her mind. During visits to Hialeah High for a class project, “I saw a lot of creativity in the classrooms and I saw how much you could really do.”

She was hooked. She went on to teach one year at Hialeah High while taking courses to earn her teaching certificate, then moved to Hialeah Gardens High in 2008, where she’s been ever since. She’s even started a forensics science program in the school.

“If I hadn’t seen him in action and hadn’t heard how he talked about the students and what he wanted to do, I don’t think I would’ve chosen this career,” she added.

But she’s glad she did. “I love, just love teaching.”

The teaching bug runs in the family. Donohue’s dad was an American history teacher at North Miami and Northwestern high schools, but Donohue, 57, majored in sports medicine while at Biscayne College (now St. Thomas University). After getting his master’s degree in the same field from Western Michigan University, he took a job as an athletic trainer at Central High — and promptly found out he had to teach three periods of biology. He loved it.

Donohue eventually surrendered his athletic training duties and devoted himself to teaching full time at several Miami-Dade public schools, eventually climbing up the administrative ladder until he landed at Beach High in 2012. He never urged his children to pick any particular field of study, however. Kerry, his second daughter, worked as a lawyer but is now a police officer, while son John is a student at Florida Atlantic University, majoring in international business.

Donohue admits that he talks shop with Campagnano, 32, at family gatherings.

“I can understand what she’s saying and she understands what I’m saying,” Donohue says. “It’s a special connection when you’re in the same field. I know from personal experience what it’s like to be in the classroom.”

Adds Campagnano: “The classroom has changed a lot since he’s been a teacher, but he likes to hear about what I’m doing and about what’s going on. We also talk about the bigger picture in education.” After a pause, she continues, laughing, “I think my husband, my mother and sister find it a little annoying.”

Their work connection has proved beneficial for both of them. Donohue recruited his daughter to teach a technology-in-the-classroom workshop to teachers at Beach High. She asks him for advice on how to handle certain situations.

Donohue has been encouraging Campagnano to get into administration. “She has what it takes to be a great leader.” Though she was reluctant at first, she now realizes she can help a lot more children beyond her immediate class. She’s now on the eligible candidate roster for a promotion.

Beyond the parental encouragement, Campagnano says she’s learned plenty from observing her father. He’s taught her about treating others with respect, about being passionate, about focusing on the positive even as challenges multiply.

“His work ethic is incredible,” she says. “He works long hours, on weekends, whatever it takes to get the job done. My mom says I’m just like him.”

On the other hand, Campagnano has taught Donohue how technology can supplement old-fashioned teaching skills. “It’s amazing her ability to find relevant applicable content,” he says.

Working in the same field, however, does pose its challenges. “I feel I’m a reflection of him, so I have to do my best at all times — actually beyond my best,” Campagnano says. “I have to do an extra good job.”