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Article Published August 21, 2019
Caroleo Puts Clintonville Elementary on the Map for ‘Nicest Places in America’
Jenn McCulloch, Correspondent

Ginny Caroleo has worked in the education field for nearly 20 years, working as a special education paraprofessional at Clintonville Elementary School (CES) for the past two years. She admits that her work can be demanding, particularly this past May when her student was working through the stress of preparing to transition to middle school.

“I was having a tough month, but I thought about how much the people around me encouraged me to keep going,” says Ginny. “The teacher I worked with was so supportive and amazing, the kids were so nice to me, and my student and one of the kids even wrote about me for Special Persons Day.

“The biggest thing about CES was seeing the kindness of the students and the events the staff organized to show kindness to the community,” she says.

Ginny credits the teachers at CES for volunteering their time to organize monthly fundraisers and she enjoyed watching the students support each of the causes. The students found out that Ginny’s husband, Michael, is a pastor who works with the homeless and ran food and sock drives throughout the year. The school had T-shirts made that said “Show Kind” and Ginny loved watching the students embrace the concept on a daily basis.

While focusing on getting through a trying month, Ginny had received the gift of a subscription to Readers’ Digest and there she read about the Reader’s Digest 2019 “Nicest Places in America” program through Reader’s Digest and Life Extension’s 2019 Community Health Heroes program. Instead of focusing on her frustrations, Ginny penned an essay about her experiences at CES.

Not only was CES chosen as Connecticut’s Nicest Place in America, but it was a top-10 Community Health Hero finalist out of more than 1,000 entries and will be considered for the three Community Health Hero Honorees to be announced in the November issue of Reader’s Digest along with the Nicest Places in America 2019 winner.

“I asked the principal if it was okay if I submitted the article, which I wrote as a tribute to the school and to the encouragement people gave me,” says Ginny. “When it placed, I felt like we won and my school gets some encouragement for what they’re doing.”

For the past two years, Ginny has been working with Dante Chiappetta, who has a cortical visual impairment, which affects his brain and his vision. She recalled many situations when she saw the students “show kind” as they reached out to Dante, including him in sports, games, discussions, and more.

She was not only inspired by the kindness and acceptance of the other students, but by her fellow educators as well. Holly Barnaby-Helfman was Dante’s special eduction teacher who has a “real love for special needs kids” and Anna Filosi was the classroom teacher.

“These kids in the class really connected led by two students, in particular, who led the way as a really good influence,” says Ginny. “Anna is the best teacher I’ve ever worked with. She read a lot of books about immigrants, kids with special needs, and kids who were different, and she really encouraged discussion about that.”

Filosi also encouraged Ginny’s love of reading. Before this year, Ginny focused mainly on non-fiction reading, but Filosi encouraged her to try out some of the young adult fiction, which “opened a whole new world to me.” The pair, in turn, challenged the students to read more with a goal of 40 books for the year.

Ginny’s love of CES extends beyond her classroom and students. She has enjoyed the monthly fundraisers, particularly the St. Baldrick’s event in which students collect pledges to shave their head in fundraising efforts to cure childhood cancer. This past year, she watched more than 50 students participate and raise $27,000.

“The teachers really get behind these fundraisers and the whole community shows up,” says Ginny. “It’s hard for some of these kids to shave their heads—they’re making a sacrifice—but everyone is so supportive and the parents totally support the school.”

She has enjoyed seeing the different ways parents contribute throughout the year, including Teacher Appreciation Week. At the end of the school year, the parents also decorated the 5th-grade hallway and classrooms for the students who are moving on to middle school, including Dante. Ginny will also move on to the middle school to continue working with him.

Ginny has worked in several schools throughout her career, including West Woods Christian Academy in Hamden, ACES, and a private school in New York where her family lived for 15 years after she graduated from Penn State with a degree in broadcast journalism.

Ginny is no stranger to moving around as she grew up as an “Army brat,” living in many different places growing up, including Germany and Hawaii. After college, Ginny and Michael raised their two children, Michael and Bethany, in Long Island, where Ginny home-schooled them. In 2005, she and Michael moved to Connecticut when Michael was entering 11th grade and Bethany was going into 8th grade; both attended West Woods Christian Academy.

Her son now lives in California with his wife Sarah, but Bethany recently purchased a home in North Haven and Ginny is excited for her daughter to live in a community she has grown to love.

“We lived in a small community on Long Island and it was nice, but of all the places I’ve lived, I was the most blown away by North Haven,” says Ginny, who lives in Hamden. “It’s a really tight community that is so supportive with good family values.”

While Ginny loves her job, she has been enjoying her time off over the summer, especially as she prepares for her daughter’s upcoming wedding. She recently spent the day making homemade wine jelly for the favors.

Ginny has also spent a lot of her time working with her husband through his ministry with the homeless. She and her husband also like biking, enjoying the trails in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maine. Like many teachers and students, Ginny is now getting ready to head back to school—another new school as she and Dante enter the middle school.

“Even though I’m an Army brat who went to over 21 schools, I still get nervous about the first day,” says Ginny, who will miss going to CES every day. “It’s bittersweet. I’ll miss the group of people I worked with last year, but this is a new challenging opportunity. The technology will be better and different and I love the new building.

“Overall, it’s been a really positive experience,” adds Ginny, who is already planning to go back to CES to attend the St. Baldrick’s funraiser. “I love what I’m doing and I love the kid that I’m working with.”