A teacher at heart

Posted 1/31/23

The Cranston Herald is taking a deeper dive into Cranstonians’ stories – starting with Marlene Gamba who was featured in the Jan. 19 edition of Humans of Cranston. Humans of Cranston is a …

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A teacher at heart


The Cranston Herald is taking a deeper dive into Cranstonians’ stories – starting with Marlene Gamba who was featured in the Jan. 19 edition of Humans of Cranston. Humans of Cranston is a recurring column showcasing the stories of Cranston residents’ community involvement, diversity and unique life perspectives in partnership with OneCranston Health Equity Zone, the Cranston Herald and Tim McFate. To nominate a Cranston resident, email JB at


“Running a school is very much like being a director of a Broadway show,” said former Edgewood Highlands Principal Marlene Gamba.

Gamba, who spent 20 years of her career as the school’s principal, has since retired and is currently writing a memoir which she hopes to complete in the next few months. She is a woman of many talents and interests, which she has shared with students over the years.

Like many Cranstonians, Gamba can trace her roots to Italy. Her grandfather on her dad’s side came to America and purchased a three family house in Providence and where all the relatives lived together. Her parents (Carmela and Louis Cicerone) met at St. Mary’s Feast and – when Louis went into the Navy – he began writing home to Carmela.

Louis and Carmela married in 1947 followed by Louis and his brother, Nicandro, opening a bakery on Prospect Street in Warwick. The business was a small operation and they sold door to door; both her parents worked there and Gamba remembers her mom picking her up from school and having her do homework in the back while she worked out front. As Gamba got older, she, too, started working in the bakery. The brother duo opened Superior Bakery in 1948 in Cranston which Gamba’s brother, Robert Cicerone, still runs today.

When she wasn’t at the bakery, Gamba could be found playing school at her Gladstone Street home.

“I played school constantly, and I had lesson plans,” Gamba said, noting that she always wanted to be a teacher.

A pupil of Bennett Avenue School, Gamba went there until the building closed and she transferred to Gladstone Street School. She later attended Hugh B. Bain Middle School and graduated from Cranston High School West in 1968.

One of the many moments from her educational career that stuck out to Gamba was when Mrs. Stone, her seventh grade speech teacher, told her about Emerson College and how Gamba had to go there. Five years later when Gamba reached her senior year at Cranston West, Stone wrote her a recommendation for Emerson. Receiving an acceptance letter from the institution, Gamba made her way to Boston for her post-secondary education. She decided to double major in speech communication and theater and loved her experience at Emerson.

One story that comes to mind from her college experience was her trip to Greece to study Greek theatre with Professor Leo Nicole. Coming from a friend’s bridal shower, Gamba flew to Greece on a different plane than her classmates. Unfortunately, there had been a mix-up and Gamba unknowingly arrived at the wrong airport. Not knowing there were two airports on the island and unable to find her group, she took a cab to the hotel. The hotel didn’t have a reservation for the Emerson group and Gamba – alone in a foreign country – began to cry. An Australian woman asked what was wrong and together they called the other airport to see if Nicole had left a message. Apparently, when she didn’t arrive at the airport, Nicole thought Gamba decided not to attend the trip. He did leave a message saying the group would be cruising the islands.

Gamba received a ride to the island in a large boat. While being rowed to shore, she saw Nicole walking along the pier with students. She jumped up in the rowboat shouting ‘Mr. Nicole, it's me!’ He saw her and started jumping as well; Nicole later told her he had only been at the pier that one moment, and it was a miracle she located him.

Back in the states, Gamba could choose to use her Greece trip credits for English or theatre – ultimately putting them toward English so she could obtain a teaching certificate in English. Ironically, it was these credits that got her a job at Attleboro High School. In her senior year at Emerson College, Gamba started student teaching. After one week, Attleboro High School’s speech teacher was in a bad car accident so Gamba took over the woman’s speech classes. The principal then approached Gamba and asked if she was all set for graduation.

“So what happened was they [the high school] called up Emerson College and literally they graduated me over the phone,” Gamba said.

Gamba went on to have two children, Renee and Melody, with her husband, James, who was a friend of her brother. Gamba substituted, served on the Gladstone PTO and went back to school for her masters in reading. She later worked as a reading consultant position at Cranston West, Park View Middle School, Cranston East and Hope Highlands.

Gamba had a passion for teaching literature which her students recognized. Everyone knew her favorite book to teach was The Great Gatsby.

Eventually, a new principal was needed for Edgewood Highlands and Superintendent of Cranston Public Schools Catherine Ciarlo reached out to Gamba about applying for the position. Gamba was in the midst of completing her final class to obtain her principal’s certificate and, although Ciarlo knew Gamba would pass the last class, she feared that it would look bad for Gamba to go to the interview without having the certificate. So, just like for her undergraduate degree, Gamba had to finish her coursework early.

Being the principal of Edgewood Highlands was the longest Gamba has been at a job.

“I remember Catherine saying to me ‘when you become a principal never forget what it is to be a teacher. Everybody works hard but you’ve really got to support your classroom teachers and it's true,” Gamba said.

Usually when she received a challenge, she would complete it, get bored and pick a new challenge. Being a principal allowed her to use all her skills and quieted the voice in her head of needing to do something more.

When it came to her last day on the job, she sang Chorus Line’s “What I did for Love” for students and thanked her staff. She also remembers all those who stop by to wish her well – including Lizbeth Larkin, the union president.

“She came to me and said ‘you were a teacher’s friend.’ And I never forgot that because you’re supposed to support your staff,” Gamba said.

The most moving part was when Ciarlo’s daughters sent flowers to Gamba. She had them for a short while at Cranston West, and they sent her a note saying they never forgot her. That instance meant so much to her because she said you can do one thing for a kid and not realize how much of an impact it has on them.

Gamba recalled teaching one student who had some issues and went on to attend a different school. On his last day, Gamba gave him her new copy of Denzel Washington’s book, which spoke about the people in your life. She later saw him at his new school.

“He came and said ‘I owe it all to you,’” Gamba said.

Gamba, teacher


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