The Nicest Place in Connecticut: Clintonville Elementary School in North Haven
NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2019 FINALIST
"School Mission: Kindness"
The students at this elementary school go out of their way to make sure everyone feels included.
On Special Person Day, fifth-graders at Clintonville Elementary School in North Haven write an essay about someone they look up to. Most choose a parent or a public figure, but last year, Sammi Santacroce detailed the strength of classmate Dante Chiappetta, a special-needs student who has multiple cognitive conditions and has to use a cane.
“I’ve known him since preschool and he’s one of my best friends,” Sammi said. “When I see him trying to do his work, I’m proud of him because he never gives up.”
Dante says it made him happy to hear his classmate’s testimony. And his special needs aide, Ginny Caroleo, confirmed that Clintonville’s students have a generosity of spirit that extends to all.
“I just thought this class is the most unique class,” she says. “Nobody is telling them to go out of their way like this to include him, they just do. They’re just so sweet.”
The school’s openheartedness is symbolized in an annual fund-raiser held in honor of a former student who suffers from brain cancer. This year, a whopping 54 students and adults—including Dante—shaved their heads bald to raise $27,000 for St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a childhood cancer research organization. While Principal Lauretta Dowling didn’t opt to go bald, she did let the kids spray-paint her hair green.
The school also honors another student, Carlos Maldonado, a third-grader who had a heart valve condition and died after multiple surgeries. There’s a pear tree planted on school grounds in memory of him that blooms every spring with beautiful white flowers. Students and former students take care of it, painting little rocks underneath it with inspirational messages and hanging things from its branches.
One might as well be Dowling’s offhand observation about her school: “Every student has their own strengths,” she says.
At Clintonville Elementary School being nice is shown through acts of kindness that impact students in the classroom, their community, and even the nation!
At Clintonville Elementary School I’ve discovered a school that embraces kindness! I’ve only been employed here two years, but the first thing that was evident to me was that this was a school that had kindness as its greatest mission. I am a special education paraprofessional and my student is treated with such respect and kindness by his classmates. This year they had a Special Person Day and the students chose someone special to write about and invite to school so they could share their essay publicly. Most children chose parents or relatives. In my class, a girl chose the student to whom I am assigned and a boy named Paul chose me. We were blown away! My student was so honored to hear the things his classmate said about how he inspired her. I listened to Paul read:
“I see what you do and I think you handle it great. You always stay calm and patient in stressful situations. Like if anything happens to your student, like he has to go home because he was sick, you are prepared and you don’t get stressed out. Also you think outside the box.”
Honestly, it had been a tough week. To hear Paul share his observations of me encouraged me so much!
Another thing that makes me think Clintonville is such a nice place is the kindness of the staff. Every year the teachers volunteer to fundraise for fantastic charities. Mrs. Gambardella, a fourth grade teacher, and Mrs. Dowling, the principal, dressed up in pink tutus and ran a Laps for Lion Heart event on our school grounds. Lion Heart is an organization committed to finding a cure for breast cancer. With a huge pink ribbon painted on our recess blacktop, we are all reminded daily of the joy found in giving.
This was the fourth year for another fundraiser that the teachers organized and hosted one evening at the school. Our students, their families, and the Clintonville community showed up to shave their heads bald for Saint Baldrick’s Foundation, an organization that funds childhood cancer research. I was told that before i was employed at the school, one of the students had died of cancer and this was a way the school decided to make a positive impact. Before the fundraiser, students and their families recruited sponsors for their commitment to shave their heads at the event. The school day of the event, the students participating gathered to spray paint the principal’s hair green! It was impressive that the principal was willing to motivate more student volunteers this way. I was amazed that more than 54 volunteers shaved their heads this year and we raised over $27,000! What a privilege to work with a team of teachers that were so dedicated to doing something so nice! Also, every month, a tree in front of our school of over 300 students is decorated in memory of the student that passed away.
Teacher Appreciation Week is always a welcome event for the staff at any school, but this year I think the parents were especially nice to us! Each day was a different theme and that made it very special. We had breakfast and lunch provided, a candy fest, and an ice cream truck, but the last day was by far the nicest of all. The parents bought us a new toaster oven for our kitchen, dish towels, sponges, cleaner, and each staff member received a personal thank you card and gift card to Dunkin’ Donuts. We were all so blessed and overwhelmed by the generosity of the PTA who organized the week.
Lastly, I must say that Room 18 also has the one of the nicest persons serving as teacher. Mrs. Filosi not only teaches 18 students, but she has taught me so much this year. She started the year by reading a beautiful book titled Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco; as she finished reading, tears flowed from her eyes and from mine. Even some of the students were dabbing their eyes. She went on to share in detail about other books that were great to read. One of the students was exasperated and requested, “Please, Mrs. Filosi, will you please stop? You make them all sound so good, and I want to read every single one at once, but I can only read one at a time!” Needless to say, Mrs. Filosi was nice enough to put up a poster titled “Books Ms. Ginny is Reading” and inspired me to read, too! The chart was a thoughtful gesture, but she actually picked out books that she thought I might like and pitched me every week this year! She inspired me to go from reading all nonfiction to exploring a world of genres I never would consider as a child or adult.
Being a paraprofessional can sometimes be a lonesome position when it comes to adult connections, but Mrs. Filosi brought me coffee and even fresh eggs from her home raised chickens throughout the year. Although she far supersedes me with her education and experience, she honored me and treated me with such respect and kindness. Mrs. Filosi is probably one of the nicest people I have ever met. I think ALL her students would agree with me!