Person of the Week
Stephanie Quarato is Making the Grade and More
Clinton Teacher of the Year and Presidential Excellence winner Stephanie Quarato is, like her colleagues across the nation, keeping classes moving ahead despite the current COVID-related challenges. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Quarato )
Stephanie Quarato wasn’t a big fan of math class when she was a middle school student. In fact, it was one she struggled with.
“I understood things in class, but at home I struggled,” Stephanie recalls.
To say things have changed for her would be an understatement. Stephanie was named Clinton Public Schools Teacher of the Year and was also awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence Mathematics and Science Teaching in 2019.
Stephanie teaches math in Clinton’s Jared Eliot Middle school and says she found out in June that she was Clinton’s teacher of the year when a group of coworkers and administrators from the district surprised her with the news.
Stephanie says that in light of how hard every member of the school system works, from administrators to secretaries to teachers, “It’s so humbling because I know all the people I work with do such amazing things.”
“Seeing how everyone took on their role was humbling and it always feel great to be recognized by the people you work with,” Stephanie says of the recognition.
Stephanie was also humbled by the National Science Foundation Presidential award for teaching math in Connecticut. To qualify for the award, Stephanie underwent a stressful application process that included essays, recording herself teaching, and interviews about her teaching philosophy.
“It really showed me how much support from my parents, my family, and my coworkers that I was given. It’s such a great honor,” Stephanie says.
“It was wonderful because when I was a student myself, I struggled with math,” says Stephanie.
Stephanie recalls that her struggles with math made her check out and give less effort in the subject, something she says she wants to avoid with her students. Stephanie works to instill confidence in her students by promoting a positive mindset about the challenges.
Math isn’t always people’s favorite subject, she realizes, but says, “I truly believe every student can be good at math. I have seen some of the most amazing things come out of my students.
“I encourage them to make mistakes. Mistakes don’t mean you’re bad at math; we’re going to learn from our mistakes to get better,” Stephanie explains.
Though she wasn’t always keen to be a math teacher, Stephanie says she “always wanted to be a teacher ever since kindergarten.” Stephanie attributes her early interest to a popular principal she had when she was a student in Chicago, as well as a childhood spent playing school where she would set up her stuffed animals and teach lessons to her fictional class.
As she got older, Stephanie began volunteering her time doing things at school like helping get the pre-K kids ready for dismissal and helping parents’ friends who were teachers set up their classroom.
“I grew that love of helping others and to this day I enjoy seeing people learn something new or understand something,” says Stephanie.
Once she got older, Stephanie says she worked extremely hard at math to overcome her struggles and found that she liked it, and was good at it. Stephanie got her first teaching job in her hometown of Chicago, and then, after she moved to Connecticut, she taught in East Hartford for three years.
As Stephanie and her husband Vinny were living in Guilford, Stephanie decided to look for jobs closer to home and saw an opening in Clinton.
“Not only was it close but it was what I wanted to do: teaching middle school math, specifically 8th grade,” Stephanie says.
After she interviewed for the position, she found she also shared the same philosophy that the school did when it came to teaching. Stephanie has been teaching in Clinton since 2014.
Stephanie says her favorite part of her job is when she and her coworkers are able to make a difference in someone’s life both inside the classroom and outside.
“It’s making a difference in students’ life, not just academically says Stephanie. It’s “knowing you had that impact and you’re helping them.”
This time of social distancing and remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been hard for teachers, parents, and students alike.
“It definitely presents its challenges daily,” Stephanie says.
Stephanie says a particular challenge presented by the pandemic is that not everyone is experiencing it the same way. Some people may have had their lives changed only a little, while others may have lost someone in their life to the virus and may be afraid of gatherings.
In response, Stephanie says teachers must be cognizant of the emotional needs of students.
“We’re not only focusing and worrying about grades but to think of their wellness. We’re still going to learn and make improvements and become the people we need to do when we get to high school,” Stephanie says.
Even in the new normal, Stephanie says there are still reasons to smile—and being in school helps.
“Despite what we’re all going through, I think we’re doing well. We can see still see the smiling eyes even though everyone is wearing a mask,” Stephanie says.
In her spare time Stephanie says she enjoys crafting and baking along spending time outdoors in Guilford where she lives with her family including her husband Vinny and daughters Kaleigh and Giuliana.
When time allows, Stephanie also enjoys traveling home to Chicago to see her family, but she’s made a real home here, as well.
“There’s a big sense of family here, not just in the school system, but in the community, too,” she says. “I leave my family at home to go to work, but it doesn’t feel like work.”