Natalie and Maria LoBianco have long been drawn to imparting knowledge to others, whether it has been in a classroom or in a theater, on stage or behind the scenes.
“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” Maria said. “I think it goes all the way back to my own elementary school experience. It was so positive, and the teachers were so welcoming. It made me want to be a part of that for kids, in helping them discover who they want to be.”
“It’s nice to inspire a student’s drive to learn,” Natalie added. “It’s exciting to engage with that energy.”
The 26-year-old twins not only appear identical. Their passion and paths into education have mirrored one another.
Both graduates of Dubuque Hempstead High School, they pursued their studies in education at the University of Northern Iowa.
Upon completion of their degrees, both also felt a calling to return home to teach within the Dubuque Community School District — Maria as a seventh grade social studies teacher at George Washington Middle School and Natalie at Bryant Elementary School.
Additionally, both came into their teaching careers in 2020-2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was a hybrid year,” Maria said. “The first year of teaching always presents a new challenge to a new teacher, but this was something completely different for everyone. We were all learning a new way to teach.”
In the years that have followed, the two have confidently come into their own as educators, connecting with students and drawing upon a unique skillset that combines a focus on working with youth, live theater and athletic hobbies.
In addition to their roles in the classroom, Maria and Natalie have been heavily involved with Rising Star Theatre Company and the Grand Opera House, both in Dubuque.
Inspired by their father — Dan LoBianco, who also has been a longtime fixture in local theater for who formerly served as the Executive Director of Dubuque Main Street — Maria and Natalie have been performing on stage and assisting back stage in a variety of theatrical productions since they were in the first grade.
Today, they continue that, while also assisting in teaching Rising Star’s youth theater classes and annual summer camps.
“It’s exciting now to be able to contribute back to the same community we love so much and that helped us to learn and grow,” Natalie said. “We’re able to draw upon our experience in the classroom in that as well.”
Megan Schumacher, of Rising Star, said the twins’ impact has been immeasurable.
“Maria and Natalie have been performing with Rising Star Theatre Company since they were 8 years old, and that gives them a unique perspective as instructors in our educational programs,” she said. “Not only are they incredibly skilled at acting, singing, dancing and teaching, but they also care deeply about the experience of each child and making sure they are learning while having fun, too.
“We are incredibly fortunate to have these two talented individuals working alongside us in many different capacities, but mostly as amazing role models for the youth in our programs. They also are incredibly kind, intelligent and have a great sense of humor, and it is truly a joy to work with them.”
The two also sing in Heartland Harmony with one another, a vocal ensemble hosted by the Northeast Iowa School of Music, as well as enjoy trivia nights, disc golfing and tennis.
‘A built-in best friend’
Despite the two being sisters, working within close proximity of one another and being involved in many of the same activities, Maria and Natalie also are inseparable as friends.
“We’re still siblings,” Natalie said, with a laugh. “But we do enjoy spending time together. It’s like having a built-in best friend.”
The two lean on one another for teaching tips, too.
“It’s nice to be able to bounce ideas off of one another and ask for advice,” Maria said. “It only gets awkward when we end up wearing the same outfit to a rehearsal.”
Tips for the upcoming school year
Whether it’s students returning to school, parents helping them to prepare for that transition, or new or veteran teachers readying their classrooms for a new crop of learners, Maria and Natalie emphasized not to get too nervous about the process as the new school year draws near.
“Everyone devotes a lot of time to a new school year, but it’s best not to get too anxious about it,” Natalie said. “You’re just bringing your focus back to school and learning to balance a different set of priorities. I like to look at it like a fresh start and an opportunity to be better in the year ahead.”
“Preparing for a new school year is a lot like preparing for a show,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to make the most out of a new start, and to find and develop your best self.”
Megan Gloss writes for the Telegraph Herald.