Overcoming Westchester ‘Entitlement’ And Fostering Success With Tough-Love Schooling

If there’s any ‘affluenza’ brewing in Westchester schools, teacher Mary Cronin will be there to stamp it out.

Growing up in Westchester, many kids emerge with a sense of entitlement that is common in affluent communities. It can be hard for children of successful parents to grasp that they need to earn their own place in the world. But it’s an attitude that doesn’t fly in Mary Cronin’s classroom at Mamaroneck High School. 

“I am very understanding, but very strict. I don’t do excuses,” says Cronin. “I always tell my students, ‘Your parents’ success is not your success. If you want to grab something in life, you are going to have to work for it.’ And I make them work for it.” 

Her approach is one of the things that Ashley Sommer, 28, vice president of Operations for Stark Office Suites in White Plains, remembers most fondly about her ninth-grade history teacher. Sommer, who today oversees a staff of more than 20 employees in the full-service executive office suite provider’s eight area locations, has always been responsible, efficient, and organized—but credits Cronin with making her understand that respect is earned, not entitled. 

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“Mrs. Cronin wants her students to become responsible and accountable for themselves.  She always held us to high standards, treated us like adults, spoke to us with a level of respect, and taught us that it was critical to form our own opinions,” Sommer recalls. “Her lesson that success isn’t going to fall into our laps because of where we come from has stuck with me, and given me the foundation on which I have grown into a successful professional.” 

Cronin also provided Sommer with a literal crash-course in the real world. In “American Dream,” a consumer economics class for seniors that Cronin co-taught with English teacher Linda Sherwood, Sommer and her classmates learned how to invest in the stock market, discussed the risks of using credit cards, and were given “salaries” and tasked with creating budgets for rent, cars, groceries, etc. “So many of us in Westchester are coddled, and that class really opened my eyes to what being an adult was really about,” Sommer notes. 

Cronin’s 30+ years of teaching have reinforced her belief that this tough-love approach is crucial for students as they transition from high school to college and into careers. And Sommer couldn’t agree more. “I apply the principles she enforced in us every day in my job, and I look for it in the people I hire, too,” says Sommer. 

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