West Side Stories: Moments That Matter Most

What is school about? Is it about learning, studying for the test, getting the grade, graduating, and getting the job? Or is it about the connections? Students connecting with their teachers, teachers connecting with their students and being able to understand each other and make an impact on the lives of others. This connection is created when we feel we are treated as human beings rather than a job or a grade. School is hard. Day after day showing up to class, seeing the same teachers and peers, and everything that we take on each day. Teachers expect you to stay in class and want you to learn what they are trying to teach you but often they don’t realize that sometimes, students need a break. As a student, one period a day where you look forward to seeing that one teacher can make all the difference. If you’re lucky, at some point in your life, you will have a teacher that you look forward to seeing, that can change your mood completely, that really has an impact on you and continues to impact you through your life and career. Teachers need breaks too. Dealing with students comments and repetitive behaviors can be draining. Wanting the students to want to feel connected and wanting the students to learn is hard work. They too want to make connections with and feel supported by their students. These are the stories shared by students and teachers about the positive connections they’ve made.

vito “In the mid 90’s…mid to late 90’s…I worked at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, Nevada as an educator. It was an adult secure, medium security facility. I was teaching English, History, and GED prep at that time. A student around 18 came into the program. The student was in the facility for violent crime and drugs. He cleaned himself up through rehab in the prison and also started coming to school. He earned his high school diploma and graduated from the program, he paroled from the system. I didn’t hear from him for about two years until I received a card from him. In the card, he thanked me for the work that I did with him in the classes in which he was enrolled, talked about the effect that education had on his life, spoke of how he was still clean, had a fiance and was working. Throughout all those things he was going to college part-time and earned his diploma. He was very appreciative of the time he had spent in the classroom. He was able to turn his life around through the work he had done and around his addiction. It was a very fulfilling experience for me just to be in that environment which at times could be really negative because of the people in there. To have someone change their life based off education and interactions with me was very powerful. To this day, I still think about this young man who I’m sure is married, has kids, and is a productive part of society in Nevada.”

-Dr. Vito Perrone, WSHS Principal


Berrelli Jenifer-Web“I have lots of students like yourself that impact my life every day; we all have more of a profound effect on each other than we realize… Danielle Capdeville is a wonderful student that has recently impacted my life with positive thoughts and prayers. She tells me frequently that I am her favorite teacher and that she needs me, she said I am “the DNA in her cell and a cell can’t survive without its DNA”  when I was out for a month with Lyme Disease.  She sent me emails with well wishes and prayers. Even though I was not feeling well, she motivated me to want to get out of that bed and get back into school with my kids! And I am now, back here, with my students, where I need to be!”-Ms. Berrelli, WSHS Science Department


DC WebI will always remember this teacher. This teacher is very kind, she always cares about you, and never does she doubt you. The teacher that has really impacted my life is Ms.Berrelli. She greets every student with a smile and a, “Hello, how are you?” I love her class. She means alot to me and Ms.Berrelli has really touched my heart. When she was sick and at home, I came home crying from school. I  don’t like it when she is away. What student cries, when their teacher is gone? Well I did, because I really care about Ms. Berrelli. I want to become a teacher, and Ms. Berrilli has model what a teacher should be. She doesn’t get upset, when you don’t understand something. Or when you are being loud, she’ll ask nicely of you to quiet down. I want to be just like Ms. Berrelli, when I’m a teacher. She has impacted my life and I will always look up to her. Ms. Berrelli, thanks for being an amazing teacher and thanks for truly caring about me.” -Danielle Capdeville WSHS Student


IMG_0596 “After having what most people would call a rough junior year, I decided, as most seniors do, to lighten up my schedule for senior year. I still wanted to challenge myself, but wanted to make sure I was capable of handling all of my work this year. English, however, was the one class I felt was going to be the easiest on my schedule of core classes. I enrolled in Women and Literature, a half year course, taught by Ms. Samuels. Now I, like I am sure many other people do, thought of Women and Lit to be a class about modern day feminism and the oppression of women. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it, but felt as if I could tolerate it for a semester.

On the first day of class, Ms. Samuels told us some things about herself, and one of those was that she was the leader of the young Democrats. I put my head down on my desk and thought to myself, “this class is going to be worse than I thought.” With no real interest, I went through the motions for about two weeks, simply showing up to class, and doing my work with minimal participation. However, during that third week we had a lesson on the differences of thinking between men and women. I won’t get into the specifics of the lesson, but after that day I left the class with a whole new perception of the course. I thought it was amazing how she was able to change my viewpoint on a class in just one period, but it is true. From that day forward I showed up to class eager to learn more, a feeling I had yet to experience in an English class before.

Along with broadening my horizons, I was able to actually listen when we started talking about how women have been viewed in society throughout time. Contrary to my prior belief, it actually genuinely interested me, and I was even able to choose my own focus of inquiry to study on a long term basis. I chose women in media and am currently writing my final paper. The examples and articles I have found on the subject are incredible and I actually am learning new information and expanding my way of thinking, which is a great feeling.

However, throughout all of the great information and lessons I have learned throughout the semester, my favorite part about the class would have to be Ms. Samuels herself. Not only is she a great teacher, but she is just an all around kind and genuine person. Earlier this year I had sprained my ankle in a football game against Minnechaug and had to be taken out of the game. Standing next to my mom was Ms. Samuels, who looked just as concerned as my mother. She offered to help me to the car and to even take some of my stuff. Looking back, I believe that was when I started taking her class seriously and became excited to learn again. Just me knowing that she cares about her students changed my outlook not only on English, but on school in general. At this point last year I was failing three classes and had no desire to learn. Now I am about to make the honor roll for the second consecutive semester and am ready to apply to a good college, and I can thank Ms. Samuels for that. So I encourage anybody, whether you are in my situation or not, to consider taking Women and Literature at some point in their high school career. And even if you don’t, at least stop by B313 so you can get to know Ms. Samuels.” – Charlie Rounds WSHS Student 

Samuels Web “Two years ago, a miracle happened. You know how you have those classes where the chemistry is bad and it’s a battle every day. Well two years ago, I had a magical class-a class where the chemistry was good. There were only twelve students in a 5th period English 10C class and I had never experienced anything like it. I asked them once why this class was so good. “It’s because we all get along”, someone replied. And it was true. Even a substitute recognized it. While I was out one day, I had gotten a new student. When I found out, I thought to myself “please don’t let it be 2nd period, I’ll never get them back.” But once I found out it was 5th, I had no worries. The note the sub left read, “Never in my life, have I seen such a genuine and kind welcome as what your 5th period class gave this new student. I wish more adults could create and experience what I witnessed today. Thank you” Because of that class, I saw the power of getting along and got a taste of what school can be like. I’ve tried to bring what I can from that class to every class since them and I try to hold my students to that standard of behavior at the very least. But it’s easier with twelve than twenty-four or twenty-six.. Similarly, during my first year teaching, I had a boy transfer into my 8th grade English class from another district. He was so smart. He had already read everything we were doing. He was able make insightful connections and he was a skilled writer and quoted literature at every turn. It was clear I had nothing to teach him. But he was polite enough about it, so I continued on with the curriculum. The next year, I went to a high school football game and I was surprised when the same young man, now in 9th grade came running up to me and gave me a hug. “I miss your class so much; I learned so much from you.” I could have said “thank you” and left at that, but before I could stop myself, the words were out of my mouth, “What could you have possibly learned from me? You knew every answer before I asked the question!” Without hesitation, he said, “You taught me not to judge people. Before you, I wouldn’t have been friends with any of the people I’m friends with now. My life is on a completely different path now and “that has made all the difference.” He winked. I smiled and nodded in appreciation of the reference to Frost. That was the day I learned that some of my most valuable lessons won’t be found on the pages of any ELA scope and sequence.” -Ms. Samuels, English teacher


teaching pic corduff-web“My first experience as a teacher was teaching English in a summer program in Springfield, MA. The program was designed to provide enrichment in ELA skills for struggling students in the district. Since they volunteered to take the summer course, I thought I would be working with a group of students eager to get ahead in English over the summer. I quickly discovered after the first week that the drive to take the summer class was not to voluntarily brush up on English skills. Most of the kids there were there because the program offered free breakfast and lunch, and daycare for working parents. I was free to create the daily curriculum and I quickly connected to my quirky, needy but lovable group of kids. We read and wrote about literature and issues they cared about and made connections to their lives and the world around them. Each week we were able to take a field trip and extend their learning to the outdoor world. We did the ropes course at Springfield College and even hiked to the top of Skinner Mountain where students recited the poetry of authors who had lived in the area and they shared poetry they had created. I realized that these trips were some of the only opportunities these kids had to experience life outside the city of Springfield. They were so blown away by the views and the beauty they saw, and it was amazing to open up a whole new world to them. One moment that always stuck with me was early on in the program. I had my students write a journal reaction about something we’d read and one student wrote, “I’m sorry I was late today. My mom didn’t pay the electric bill and they shut it off. I couldn’t have a hot shower and I had to walk my little sister to school. I feel embarrassed and uncomfortable and I’m sorry I can’t do this assignment on time.” This same student went on to not only successfully complete the summer enrichment program but was in the top 5% of his class and got a full scholarship to college. I think about it a lot. Everyday I see students who I know are struggling not only with what they are being asked to do but often with the basic needs one needs to have in order to learn. This group of kids showed me that no matter where you are from and what you are going through, if you want to learn and are willing to do your best, there is a teacher out there that will help you.” -Ms. Corduff, English teacher

JA-WebI entered high school without the notion of joining a sport until I saw all of my friends signing up for Outdoor Track and Field. The meeting before the season began was intimidating to say the least. Everyone seemed to know what event they wanted to partake in, but I was clueless. They all ran in the previous season for Indoor and knew Coach Griffin and what to anticipate. Even more, I did not get the impression that the coach was an inviting person. He had a booming voice and told everyone that he was “running out of daylight” to shush everyone before talking. This would become his most famous line. Practice was hard and he expected a lot out of the team. Even though a good chunk of the girls quit by the second week, I showed up every day and worked my hardest. He noticed that. I came back the next season and every year after.

A close relationship formed when, by my sophomore year, I wanted to join the field event of high jump. I was decent at it throughout the season’s meets. Coach Griff worked very closely with the high jumpers and taught us everything we needed to know about technique and clearance (how to get over the bar). I had a very successful high school career high jumping due to my coach. I participated in Western Mass twice so far (hopefully a third next season) and States.

If there is one piece of advice I will take with me from my coach, it’s when he told me, “jump and be free.” This relates to many aspects of my life. This taught me to take chances, go for the goal, and just believe in yourself. I started track as a timid freshman, but learned to take charge, assist others, and work hard for my own personal records (PR’s). It’s still a surprise to me that Track and Field, the girls, and our coach became an important part of my life. They taught me dedication and I can’t thank them enough.” – Jocelynn Acevedo WSHS Student