By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – “What a great way to help kick-off the day!” exclaimed Greg Nevader, assistant principal at Shrewsbury High School, after an inspirational program Aug. 30 at Shrewsbury High School (SHS).
“Our Students, Our Legacy,” was organized by Dr. Jane Lizotte, assistant school superintendent of community partnerships and well-being. The program’s goal was for educators to hear first-hand perspectives from those they serve.
“This morning you will listen to the stories of 14 former and current students,” Lizotte told those in attendance. “They will share experiences they have had in our schools, many of which have strengthened their skills and knowledge and understanding of themselves and the world around them.”
Invited participants included three sets of siblings, a team of current students who ran a benefit for early cancer detection, and some with personal struggles along the way. Some followed the traditional path of going to a four-year college or university, while others went to community college or obtained jobs.
Students and alumni included: Jim Heald, class of 1989; David Chapin, class of 2002; Ruby Lee, class of 2009; Sarah Hopkins, M.S. class of 2010; Vinay Maliakal and Anthony Qualey, class of 2012; Hannah Hopkins, class of 2014; Michael West, class of 2015; Marlie Atlabachew, class of 2018; and T.J. Morgera, Jack Foley, twins Sophia and Jessica Peng, and John West – all from the class of 2020.
Heald, an LGBTQ advocate and funeral director, reflected on how times have changed since he attended the school. He is comforted that there are now support groups in the school system for the LGBTQ community.
Chapin came from Liberia to Shrewsbury when he was a freshman in high school. He chose Quinsigamond Community College. His recommendation was to encourage students to identify what they are good at, what they love to do and what the world needs them to do – and to look for a crossover.
Sisters Sarah and Hannah Hopkins encouraged diversity and extoled the collaborative atmosphere at SHS.
The West brothers endured personal loss when their father passed away from ALS. Michael noted how the staff at SHS helped and guided him with compassion through that time. John expressed gratitude for the positive impact that coaching with the Unified Basketball team has had on his experience. He advocated for the district to create more unified opportunities.
Morgera and Foley, both from the class of 2020, talked about a school project that they turned into a fundraiser for local nonprofit, 15-40 Connection.
Qualey knew early on that college was not for him so he went right into the workforce after graduation. He now works at the Shrewsbury Parks & Recreation Department. His recommendation was for the schools to provide banking and life skills classes for those not headed to college.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the current students and alumni who shared their experiences and how positive they were,” said Superintendent Dr. Joseph Sawyer. “At the same time, I’m perhaps more proud that these people challenge us about how we can get better…We have all different types of students that we need to be thoughtful about serving their needs.”