Madame Peterson Brings ‘joie de vivre’ to NHS


Photo courtesy of Kate Peterson

Madame Peterson pictured at her seaside farmhouse in Nova Scotia, Canada with her three children. From left: Elizabeth Rose, Sarah, Kate “Madame” Peterson, and Robert.

Lauralee Pelletier, General Assignment Reporter

WOODBURY – Devoted. Enthusiastic. Kind. These are all words students have used to describe the one and only Madame Peterson at Nonnewaug High School.

Kate Peterson, better known as “Madame” to her students, is the abundantly talented French teacher at Nonnewaug High School. Peterson has been teaching in Region 14 for almost 15 years, but Region 14 is not the only place that has had the pleasure of learning from Madame.

After Peterson had young children of her own, she was inspired to put her passion for teaching and love of music to good use. Prior to becoming a World Language teacher with Region 14, Peterson operated the early childhood music program, “Kindermusik with Kate”, at St. Paul’s Church in Woodbury. 

“I shared the joy of music with mothers and almost 1,000 children from newborns to second grade. It was a magical time,¨ Peterson said. She called her choice to start Kindermusik with Kate a ¨natural decision¨ given the fact that music had always been a big part of her life. 

As a child, Peterson’s family always sang around the piano together after dinner. ¨I know it sounds corny, but it was actually so fulfilling,” she said. “We still do it today at family reunions, and my cousin has even put together a song book at this point.¨ 

After using her musical expertise to teach young children for many years, she began her journey with Region 14 at Woodbury Middle School. After almost a decade of teaching there, Peterson moved on to teach at Nonnewaug High School – where she still sees some familiar faces from her kindermusik years! 

Peterson, who has been at Nonnewaug for five years now, teaches a variety of classes, from beginning French all the way up to the most advanced French classes in the school. “Teaching at the high school is much more challenging, but it also is highly rewarding,” she said. “I love working with young adults before they fully flap their wings towards independence.”

With so much experience teaching and so much time spent with students, there are bound to be some memorable moments. She recalled, “our trips to Quebec have to be the absolute highlight!” 

Her students concur. “One of my favorite memories has to be the Quebec trip we took with the French classes,” said Gabe Brochu, a senior who is now in his 6th year of French classes with Peterson.

There is never a dull moment when taking one of Peterson’s classes, and she often enthralls her students with tales about all the places she has explored with her three children: Sarah, Elizabeth, and Robert. Boston, Quebec, and Nova Scotia are among her favorite spots. Her Siberian Husky, Lucas, also makes regular appearances in Peterson’s stories. 

Although Peterson is now a familiar face in the close-knit Woodbury community, she has not been here her whole life. Shortly after she was born, Peterson’s family moved from the East Coast to the Midwest, where they spent many years in Minnesota. Peterson said that growing up in Minnesota was a very wholesome experience.

Eventually Peterson and her family ended up moving back East just before she started high school. Like it is for so many students who have had to move during their school-aged years, this was a difficult adjustment for Peterson. ¨My heart always goes out to new students at Nonnewaug High School who have recently moved to the area,” she said. “It’s one of the challenges in life that is so difficult, yet it is a massive time of growth at the same time.¨

Something that always kept Peterson’s spirits up was her love for French. ¨My mom used to sing French songs to us when we were kids. I have always been fascinated with the sounds of the French language and the idea of communicating with other French speakers in their native tongue,” said Peterson.  

After falling in love with the French language, Peterson began to officially study French in high school.  She continued her French studies at Boston College in Massachusetts. 

At Boston College she lived in a language dorm with 20 other French students. “It was an amazing experience, although we spoke too much English. It takes work to speak French, and sometimes we were just having too much fun to put in the effort.” 

Although it wasn’t until attending graduate school at McGill University in Montreal, Canada that she really became motivated to become fluent in French. “In that program, you were forced to parlez français or you got kicked out! That was what made me want to become fluent quickly,” said Peterson. 

Peterson, who studied French and Therapeutic Recreation at McGill, began working in Art Therapy after obtaining her degree. ¨I was able to intern at a psychiatric hospital with young adults for the year,” said Peterson. “[It] was highly challenging, but fascinating at the same time. It really helped me to understand the importance of mental health.”

Language, art, and music have been an ongoing theme throughout Peterson’s life. While in high school, Peterson worked at a designer fabric outlet. She was so gifted with the concept of design, that she eventually became an interior designer in Westchester County, New York. 

Madame describes the work as ¨very fulfilling¨. She loved helping people make their homes more beautiful and functional, doing all kinds of exquisite and intricate designs in all different types of homes. From apartments in co-op cities to multi-million dollar homes in Katonah, New York, she did it all.

Although Peterson relished her career as an interior designer, it almost seems as if she was destined to become a teacher. 

Peterson’s love of French is infectious, and students that have taken her classes develop the same fondness for the language. “One of the most enjoyable aspects of class with Madame Peterson is that she always endeavors to infuse real-world application into the French language,” said Ian Budrewicz, a senior and sixth-year French student. “She also always finds ways to incorporate fun activities that help us strengthen our understanding of French.” 

Peterson’s students say she is more than just a teacher – she is also a friend and a mentor. “Something that I truly admire about Madame Peterson is that she is tirelessly devoted to our education and strives to help every student to the best of her ability,” said Budrewicz. “[She] is one of the kindest and most enthusiastic teachers I have ever had.” 

“Madame always sees the good in everyone, it’s something I really praise about her,” added Brochu.

Peterson loves bestowing all that she has learned onto her students. “I have learned so much from great teachers in my life. I want to pass forward to the students of NHS all of the joie de vivre that I have received from those educators,” she said. “The more I am surrounded by la belle langue and its many rich and diverse cultures, the more in awe and thankful I become to be able to share this passion with my students!”