Dan Casella joined the Avon Old Farms School community in the fall of 2021 along with his wife Jen, and their sons Jack, Wyatt, Rowan, and Matthew. They live on campus with their dog Deggy.
Dan came to Avon Old Farms with a long history of teaching—both in public and private schools, single-sex and co-ed. Throughout all of his experiences, however, it was an all-boys prep environment that felt like the right place to raise his family.
As a high schooler, Dan attended the all-boys Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, New Jersey, before transferring to Lawrence Academy for three years to pursue not only his love of ice hockey, but to also take his academic career more seriously.
“For my family it was a leap of faith, as no one before me had enrolled in a boarding school,” Dan explains. “But, that was the start of it all, I’d say. My high school years were pivotal in terms of getting me to focus and do well.”
After Lawrence, Dan matriculated to Dartmouth College where he pursued a degree in government. There, he played four years of hockey and was recognized not only for his stick skills, but also for his engagement with the community: he was a finalist for the NCAA’s Hockey Humanitarian of the Year award and also received the ‘Unsung Hero Award’ on his college hockey team.
“It felt great to be recognized by my teammates, the coaching staff, and the greater community,” he recalls. “My years at Dartmouth were great. The sense of community there inspired me to help communities abroad.”
For two years right after college, Dan was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan where he helped build the community and taught English. He immersed himself in the village, learning the culture and the language. Dan describes those years as the most rewarding in his professional life, and upon returning to the U.S., decided he needed to continue to teach.
“I knew teaching was something I needed to continue, so I took a test for NYC teaching fellows... Upon receiving my scores, I thought I would become a history teacher or something similar, but the city needed math teachers, so that is what I became. My first teaching job was at IS 129 in the Bronx.”
To prepare, Dan enrolled in courses to re-learned high school math and took on the mentality of an ‘us versus the material’ approach inside his classroom.
“I remembered what it was like to struggle with material, and so I really wanted my students to see me as an ally; someone who was there to inspire them to stick with it and a partner to help them through. It’s a team approach between me and my students to conquer the material, and I think that really resonates with high school students.”
After a stint in public schools, Dan felt driven to share his love for hockey with young people and made the professional move to private schools. He first taught and coached at an all-girls school in Baltimore. While he recalls that the hockey team wasn’t very good, he says each time a player went after the puck it was like they were playing for the Stanley Cup. That energy and passion more than made up for the 4:30 a.m. drives to the rink for practice.
Around that same time, Dan was pursuing his Masters in Education at Towson University, where he met his wife Jen. When the two married and were having their first-born son, they decided a move closer to family was needed, and so they picked up from Maryland and moved to Pittsburgh. There, Dan took a job as the executive director of the Allegheny Valley Habitat for Humanity.
“We had moved without having secured jobs in our new home, so while it wasn’t a teaching job, I was still learning new skills and helping a community grow. But, soon Jen said to me, “You love teaching and coaching...You need to get back to that. So, late in the season, I reached out to a placement service and found a job at Tilton School. In 2014 I migrated from Tilton to Cheshire Academy, knowing that Connecticut was a good place to raise a family with strong schools and great communities.”
In 2021, Dan’s career came full-circle when a mathematics faculty position opened up at Avon Old Farms. An all-boys school with an elite hockey program, it was a perfect job that paired teaching with the sport he loved and offered a caring community in which to raise his young family.
“I’ve experienced and observed how a single-sex enviroment is able to quiet distractions and simultaneously bring kids out of their shells,” he says. “Students take risks in the classroom when they’re not fearful of being judged, and they reap the rewards. For me, when kids are engaged and willing to take that leap of faith, teaching isn’t work. It’s too much fun being in front of a class to call it work.”
Dan and his wife have four sons!
Dan spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kazakhstan. While there, he built a library and his family in the U.S. collected ice skates to send to Kazakhstan that could be borrowed from the new library.
As a college hockey player at Dartmouth, Dan was a finalist for NCAA Hockey Humanitarian of the Year Award.
Outside of Avon, Dan is also Program Director at Elite Hockey Camps where he spends his summers coaching.